Archive for January, 2006

That’s bull!

The annual running of the bulls kicked off early this year as the Chicago Bulls trampled across the disheartened Raptors tonight to cruise to a 113-104 victory. Toronto gave more open looks tonight than Marilyn Monroe standing over a subway grate.

This was supposed to be the game where the Raps bounced back from a heartbreaking loss to New Jersey the night before to get back on track. Instead, Toronto derailed themselves by letting the Bulls shoot 52% from the field and 61% from the arc. If only those numbers meant success for me when they showed up on my high school report cards - I’d be golden right now.

But it was one of the those nights where Chris Bosh was ripping into Mike James again for taking terrible shots. Good for you, Chris. James needs to learn that the rest of the team won’t stand around and be the supporting cast to the Mike James Show. He may have racked up 13 assists tonight, but he made far too many poor basketball decisions in the game. So until Mike James either gets traded or shakes off the bad case of Alstonitis he’s got, I’ll stick by my guns.

The one positive I could draw from this game was Sam Mitchell’s coaching. He drew up some great plays at the right times; something that has been lacking terribly all season long. Maybe he’s finally beginning to get a handle on coaching or maybe the players are just starting to get it. Either way, it’s refreshing to see us execute X’s and O’s on a more consistent basis, and I have a sneaking feeling that Gene Keady may be playing a larger role than we see and know.

And on a final note, there was an Aaron Williams sighting in Chicago and we saw more of him tonight than Hoffa. As bad as Hoffa has been all season, he’s actually managed to sink even lower since the start of the new year. I don’t know how many more reasons Babcock needs to pull the plug on this one.

Vince Carter breaks 19,000 hearts

Where was that shot in the Eastern Conference semi finals back in 2001? As much as most of you love to hate on Vince Carter, there is no denying the fact that he convincingly pulled the rug from under the Toronto Raptors this afternoon with an incredible game-winning shot.

Vinsanity does live on, and it completely ran wild on us today. Somewhere in America, Hulk Hogan was watching and saying, “… and THAT’S why you drink your milk and eat your vitamins.” You absolutely have to give credit to Vince for running New Jersey through the win column again and torching the Raptors for 42 points in a game where we played solid defence.

I hate losing, more than I hate ironing a basket full of dress shirts. But you can’t feel bad about losing a competitive, exciting game like this where we did all the right things. However, if I could blame someone for giving up our late fourth quarter lead, it’s got to be Mike James.

I know what you’re thinking. Here he goes again about Mike James, the hottest hand in the last 5 games, the heart and soul of the team, the savior of Toronto basketball. Lang, why don’t you just leave this guy alone?!?

No.

I’ve been saying time and time again, Mike James takes stupid shots. I’ve said it when they don’t go down, and I’ve said it even when they do. When Mike had the basketball with 45 seconds left in the game, I knew what was going through his head.

“I’m Mike James, b*tch. I’m Mike James, b*tch. What did the five fingers say to the face? Mike James, b*tch!”

There was no doubt he was going to run the clock down and wait for the right moment to jack up a 3 to be the hero of the game. Hasn’t anyone else noticed the crazy look in his eyes lately? He drains a couple of baskets and all of a sudden he goes wild eyed like Gargamel at a smurf convention. I’ve never seen anyone with that much misplaced confidence since I did the worm at a grade 8 dance.

And what did Mike do? Between the legs, between the legs, and jacks the long ball. That’s not the shot a veteran player should be taking in the dying seconds of the game when we’re nursing a lead. It was stupid, horrible, and selfish - and it left the door open for the Nets to walk right back into the game.

It doesn’t matter if you score 30 points, or dish out 15 assists in a game. If you’re up by 4 points against the hottest team in the league with 45 seconds left to go in the game, you eat clock and go inside. You jack up an unnecessary 3 ball while the rest of your teammates are in position and that negates anything good you’ve done up until that point.

Mike James needs to realize that he’s not the star of the team. Great teams are built by assembling pieces that work together, not by stacking up on scorers. Everyone has a functioning role to drive a larger engine and you can’t just take it into your hands and abandon your primary duties to the team.

There’s no doubt in my mind we could have, and deserved to win this game. But I have to give Vince Carter credit for capitalizing on a poor decision by Mike James and sticking it to the Raptors. No matter how fashionable it is to be a VC detractor these days, he’s getting the job done. Plain and simple.

We’ll take that - thank you very much

You ever see that commercial where a mailman who looks suspiciously like Santa Claus, shows up at a guy’s door and hands him a Visa bill that reads a whole column of zeroes? After watching tonight’s game between the Toronto Raptors and the Houston Rockets, I feel like that guy.

Forget the fact that Toronto has won 5 games in a row or that Hoffa was in the game in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter. Heed not the fact that the Ringling brothers were in the stands taking notes when Mo Pete hit another circus shot by the baseline. And pay no attention to the fact that Chris Bosh pulled down 16 rebounds and humiliated Dikembe Mutombo, a 4-time Defensive Player Of The Year, all night. Who wants to sex Mutombo? Nobody now.

The Raptors simply took the Rockets to lunch, and made them pay for the cab too.

This could well be the game that will vindicate Toronto as one of the league’s hottest teams of late, and underscores Sunday’s matchup against the streaking New Jersey Nets who are on a 9 game winning streak of their own. I’d hazard a guess that the ACC may be selling more hotdogs and beers that day.

Toronto won all four quarters, out-rebounded, and snipered 3’s all night. Yao or no Yao, the Raptors played a fantastic basketball game. And I’ll give recognition where it’s due. Mike James was the girlfriend you dumped for someone else, and then run into 3 months down the road and suddenly she’s hotter than an iPod Nano on a Texas grill. He absolutely did it tonight, so hats off to him.

But what astounded me the most tonight was that the Raptors stepped up and played defence. Toronto swarmed like they were descending on a camp counselor holding freezies in the air. Raptors fans were so enthralled by the hustle on defence, they completely forgot to boo Tracy McGrady, who still finished with an incredible 37 points in 41 minutes.

On a final note, there are 4 days left to make a decision on Darrick Martin. D-Mart made a cameo late in the fourth quarter tonight, threw up a brick, walked 10 feet and ran out of breath.

And we’re still contemplating signing this guy?

Free D-Mart!

So the Raptors win the basketball game last night against Orlando. Everyone got to play, everyone got to score, and high fives abounded. It was like tee-ball all over again.

Coming off back-to-back productive games, the focus within the next few days falls on Darrick Martin. The Raptors have until January 10th to decide whether or not to guarantee D-Mart’s contract for the rest of the season. Sam and Darrick go back a bit, so expect the coach to lobby to management to keep him around.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think that D-Mart is one burger away from playing the lead role in Nutty Professor 3? It’s difficult to haul that much weight around at the age of 35, and it’s not going to get any easier. D-Mart has played more games this year than he has in any other season within the last 4 years. That is a lot of rust.

In 2002, he played all of 3 games. In 2003, 16 games. In 2004, 11 games and this year he’s played 16 games. That means he’s played 46 games and sat out 282 games. Suddenly, he produces for 2 of those games and we’re jumping at the opportunity to book this guy? Are you serious?

As much as I’m on Mike James, I don’t think anyone would disagree that he’s a solid point guard. Jose Calderon is right on his heels for the point position, and if we needed another point guard, we could suspend all belief and put Jalen back in there. Do we really need to sign D-Mart for the rest of the season when frankly, he hasn’t done anything to prove his reliability or contributing potential to this team?

Granted, he’s had 2 great nights but there were enough ugly shots in there to make me think I was drinking rounds of Prairie Fires. Some have made the argument that his veteran presence is valuable to the locker room and that his leadership is fantastic. So what? We have Eric Williams who’s taken it upon himself to write Charlie V’s name on a big stick and brandish it at practice. Jalen Rose is another reliable veteran voice on the team, once he’s arrived back from the bucket they made last game. And Loren Woods can still humor me by wearing his headband that has soaked as much sweat this season as a sponge on Mars. We have veterans.

I don’t buy it. That roster spot could be put to better use. I’m already booked for a triple-bypass from watching Mo Pete and Mike James heave 3’s from practically the press room; I don’t need D-Mart doing the same.

The Raptors should let him go.

A Raptors trilogy

I was concerned when Chris Bosh headed into locker room at half time with no boards to his name and the team down 11 points to the Atlanta Hawks. No rebounds at all for Chris. That’s like Kirstie Alley and no fudge ice cream. But give Sam Mitchell some credit when he pulled Bosh aside and reminded him, “Look, you got no rebounds. You got the same number as me.”

That certainly had the right effect as Chris went on to collect a double-double all in the second half of the game, and the Raptors blew past the Hawks to take the game 108-97. Make that the first 3 game winning streak of the season.

Mike James decided he wasn’t finished playing the part of a basketball pitching machine and tossed up more shots than anyone else on the team, finishing with 28 points and a modest 6 assists. The points are great, but maybe he’s letting the initials of his name get to his head. I wouldn’t mind his shooting so much if he wasn’t as streaky as cheap deodorant, but he got the job done tonight so I’ll behave.

And who would’ve thought that D-Mart would officially open for business tonight. Darrick sold the Hawks 2 late 3-pointers that had me thinking I was in the Twilight Zone. If Darrick Martin wins another game for us this season, you can call me Aunt Susie. I’ll even bake you cookies.

Tomorrow at home against the Orlando Magic. Dare I say we make this 4 in a row?

I dare.

I’m Mike James, *****!

“Of course, I feel better at the one because I have the ball in my hands,” James said yesterday after practice in Atlanta. “I’m not a player that really likes to play off the ball. I can play off the ball, but I just like to be able to go on the pick and roll or set the offence up or being able to just control the tempo of the game. That’s when I’m at my best. Getting that opportunity definitely feels good.”

Is this the same guy who races with his teammates to see who can throw up a 3 pointer first? The same guy who dribbles like he’s chasing a balloon in the wind? The same guy, who as my buddy Jay eloquently puts it, believes in a shoot first - shoot second philosophy?

Lets face it. Mike James greatest talent is his ability to ramble on incessantly in post-game interviews. As a starting point guard, his numbers have been pretty good the last couple of games. 19 points and 10 rebounds against Indiana, 28 and 9 against Atlanta. But don’t let those numbers fool you.

On the season, he’s averaging 4.5 assists a game. On his career, he’s averaging 3.6. Just to put this into perspective, Rafer Alston averages higher career assists and the same career turnover average, 1.47 a game.

Make no mistake, I was thrilled when the James-Alston trade went down. I’m sure somewhere a small piece of hell froze over. But Mike is obviously living on another planet if he thinks he’s setting up the offence. I’ve seen more distribution from the meat pie sample girl at Costco.

And it’s apparent that his teammates feel the same way, particularly Chris Bosh. I’ve seen Bosh tear into James between some plays like paper pants on Chris Farley. And with good reason. In the Indiana game, James attempted 17 shots while Bosh only took 13. Against Atlanta, James attempted 17 shots while Bosh attempted only 11. Catching my drift here?

If this team is going to take a positive turn in the month of December, Mike James needs to take off his velcro gloves and distribute the ball more. Tonight’s game against Atlanta won’t be a walk in the park. Atlanta is just as hungry as Toronto and are looking to avenge their recent loss, so the pace of the game will be fast and furious - James preferred style of play. He’ll need to slow down, track his shooting options, and call plays.

I’ll be back after the game with my thoughts.

My first breakthrough of 2006

The other day I had the opportunity to have an enjoyable dinner at a great Chinese restaurant in the city. The food was fantastic, and the service was very pleasant. As is customary upon paying the bill, I was rewarded with a fortune cookie which I was admittedly looking forward to before I even ordered the sweet and sour pork. I snapped the cookie in half, gingerly pulled out the message, and it read: Be sympathetic to others.

Well, that’s odd. Confucious clearly must’ve mixed up his messages, because I am the most sympathetic person I know. I buy homeless guys hotdogs, I give up my parking spots to others, I pet rabid dogs, hell… I even bought Jose Canseco’s book. This message didn’t apply to me at all. I stuffed it in my coat pocket and left for home disappointed.

But on the drive home, the message gnawed at me. Was I missing something? Was there someone I had forgotten to wish all happiness on earth to during the festive holiday season? And then it hit me and I slammed on the brakes, sliding a good 2 feet in the snow in my driveway.

Hoffa.

I’ve never been a fan of Rafael Araujo’s. My favorite saying happens to be, “Hoffa’s terrible.” I use it when they screw up my order at the drive-through, or when some maniac cuts me off on the highway.

“No ketchup?!? Hoffa’s terrible.”

“Can you believe the nerve of this cabbie?!? Dammit, Hoffa’s terrible!”

But this message meant something.

It’s the start of a new year, so you know what? I’m going to bury the hatchet (and the axe, the hammer, the power drill, the tool shed, and everything else that was between us) and start fresh.

I’m going to be positive. I’m going to give Hoffa one more chance to prove that he can play basketball. I’m not asking for miracles like 8 points and 6 rebounds, but I will try not to choke on my sandwich when he misses layups that Ray Charles would make with his hands in his back pockets.

No more booing. Just intense staring and possible incredulous high-paced blinking. I will ignore all news stories and statistics pertaining to the D League. I promise to furiously try to guide the basketball with my Jedi powers when Hoffa shoots the ball. I’ll even spray paint the word Araujo over every 55 MPH street sign to show my support.

I’ll stop calling him Awful Araujo. I’ll double high-five everyone around me as a tribute to his jersey number when he scores. And I won’t be mean. That is my solemn pledge. And may God have mercy on my pitiful soul if I can’t manage to muster up all the available energy in my body to cheer this guy on for 8-12 minutes a night, or 6 fouls - whichever comes first.

It’s me and you against the world, Hoffa.

Me and you.

Why January will be a beautiful month

I’ve spent all morning taking down old calendars and putting up new ones, making sure to circle every Raptor game for the month of January. If there was ever a time to take advantage of scheduling, this is the month. Toronto faces off against a chunk of teams that are either living in the basement or under the stairs.

The Raptors didn’t have a great basketball month in December, but we went .500. I won’t lie, I jumped on my bed for a good 20 minutes. But January proves to be a month that we may throw into the books as a winning month. We play 15 teams, 11 of which are currently out of the playoffs. Only 3 of those teams have winning records. The rest are in the deep end, holding onto each other for dear life.

I don’t have any illusions about the Raptors becoming the makings of the next ‘comeback sports’ movie. If I wanted more W’s, I’m buy a pack of M & M’s. But we do have a legitimate shot of booking some wins.

Some predictions for the short term:

  • Jalen Rose, Part II. It’ll be deja-vu all over again as Jalen decides he’s had enough of wearing warm-ups.
  • Rock’em, Bosh’em Basketball. Chris looks angrier every game. He’ll blow up and go ballistic. Expect better numbers.
  • Hoffa learns to play basketball. I got ya, didn’t I?
  • Gene Keady makes a difference. Make no mistake, this guy is a walking basketball repository.
  • Alvin Williams retires. I’ve driven my car on fumes before, but this guy’s tank fell off months ago.
  • Norma Wick asks real questions. Yeah, that’ll never happen. Got ya again.
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