Raptors thrilled to be home, especially Barrett and Quickley, after brutal stretch

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You can bet every member of the Toronto Raptors is thrilled to be home after a tough road trip that concluded with a “that’s it, we’ve got nothing left” performance on Friday in Utah.

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But two players in particular, RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley, have to be the most relieved, even if they return to hotels, instead of the creature comforts of home like their new teammates.

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Quickley and Barrett have just gone through the road slog of all road slogs. From Nov. 13 to the Dec. 30 trade to the Raptors, the duo went through five-game and three-game Eastern Conference road trips with the Knicks, followed by four games out West. They were even finishing a three-game trip to Oklahoma City, Indiana and Minnesota when the trade took place. Yes, the Knicks had one more long trip West still to come, but that wasn’t happening until March.

Quickley and Barrett must have thought there would be a lot of home cooking on the menu in the New Year.

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Instead, they had to pack whatever they could as fast as possible, make their way to Toronto to play one game at home, before setting off for 11 days of travel to as far away from Toronto as you can get in the NBA. No wonder Barrett groaned when someone brought up the upcoming trip at his introductory media conference, saying he thought he was done with the draining and dreaded California and Utah special.

The Raptors managed to win only two of the six games on the trip, dropping the last three, but before everything caught up with them in Utah, they gave the contending Los Angeles Clippers and pretending Los Angeles Lakers all they could handle. Barrett played some of the best basketball of his career before struggling against the Jazz, while Quickley was solid all the way through.

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The Raptors should be encouraged by those performances, especially with Pascal Siakam missing a game and Jakob Poeltl being hobbled or out for the back end of the trip.

Here’s the good, band and the ugly of this challenging stretch, with a busy home week (Boston on Monday, Miami on Wednesday and Chicago on Thursday) on the way. Those games will feature reunions with Dalano Banton and Oshae Brissett, Kyle Lowry, and DeMar DeRozan, before the big one at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

THE GOOD

Toronto scored 122.4 points per 100 possessions on the trip, No. 8 in the NBA over that span. The team was also fourth in both true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage, moved the ball beautifully (third in assist ratio) and barely turned the ball over (second in assist-to-turnover ratio).

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Barrett was outstanding in the first five games, Siakam continued the best outside shooting stretch of his career, Quickley impressed, Dennis Schroder and Gary Trent Jr. picked up their games and young Jontay Porter flashed some potential.

Plus head coach Darko Rajakovic made his mark by dropping a well-timed rant for the ages after some truly awful officiating in the game against the Lakers.

THE BAD

Nobody was worse on the offensive glass over the last six games than the Raptors. Only four teams were worse when it comes to defensive rebounding. Overall, they were third from the bottom on the boards. Considering all the size and athleticism on hand (but less so when Siakam and Poeltl are unable to play) Toronto shouldn’t be this awful at rebounding the ball. Part of the defensive issues stem from failing to be able to secure the ball on missed shots.

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They also didn’t force enough turnovers (only three teams forced a lower opponent turnover percentage) and gave up too many open shots and had trouble getting other teams to foul then. As well, opponents shot 42.7% from three against Toronto in the six games.

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THE UGLY

Surrendering 125.7 points per 100 possessions, as the Raptors did over the six games, wouldn’t get you anywhere even with prime Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the roster. If you can’t stop anybody at all, you aren’t going to win far more often than not. OG Anunoby is missed, Poeltl, too, when he has been out, but it was more than just their absences that were the culprit.

Toronto is going to need to clean things up substantially. Right now, way too much is being asked of Barnes. If you want him to keep dominating offensively, he can’t also be tasked with suddenly doing far more work defensively too.

A healthy Poeltl would shore up the middle, but Quickley, Schroder and Trent probably have to gamble less frequently on defence, Siakam needs to get back to making an impact on defence, and communication needs to increase.

@WolstatSun

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