Archive for February, 2007

Well, I knew the Raps would be able to compete, but…

I don’t think anybody had the Raps winning that game tonight so easily. Other than withstanding that mini-push that Houston made (and Chuck was right, that 3 TJ hit was big, because the Raps needed something to get the bleeding to stop), there really wasn’t any big competition tonight.

So why not? Was it that the Raptors were on fire shooting? Yeah, that had something to do with it. When you come out hitting your shots after getting good looks, it puts your opposition in a situation where they feel they have to score every time down the court, so shots get forced. Jeff Van Gundy had to take a few time outs because the Rockets were just coming down the floor and chucking up shots without even trying to penetrate or move the ball.

When I talked about how I thought the Raptors would be able to beat the Rockets, one thing I said was that they had to use their speed and they did a good job of this early, pushing the ball upcourt and catching Houston asleep. They exposed Mutumbo early and often, to the point that even Hump started making him look bad. Note to Mutumbo: When you’re tackling Hump because he’s beating you to the basket, you have SERIOUS issues with your game. SERIOUS issues. Not to take anything away from Hump, he showed that when he doesn’t try to dribble the ball, goes up hard for rebounds and uses some of that size inside, he can be an effective player. No, we don’t think he is going to put up points on a nightly occasion, but he doesn’t have to be the guy who just comes in and goes foul crazy before calling it a night.

We said it earlier, Joey Graham, get used to the bench. You’ve had more than enough opportunity to show that you can be a consistent contributor to the Raptors and haven’t had that much success. Juan Dixon has shown up and looked like a guy who wants to play and wants to make a difference and as long as he keeps doing that, it’ll be Juan and MoPete. I mean, AP wasn’t even playing tonight and you couldn’t get any PT. That should pretty much spell it out.

It’s nice to see Andrea playing down low a little bit more, he’s learning how to use his body and is because of his speed, he is able to quickly slip out and hit a jumper if there’s nothing inside. If you saw that turnaround jumper he hit after the pass was deflected, you saw something special. You can’t defend that. Too quick and the stroke is too natural. Looked like he has been doing that his whole life.

Overall, a nice game by the Raptors. We even got to see some TJ/Jose/Juan at the end of the game and although that leaves them pretty small, good Lord that’s a fast lineup. Good times.

Why the Raps should be able to compete against the Rockets

The Raptors were simply outclassed the other night against San Antonio, but I don’t think that will be the case against the Rockets. I don’t think Mutumbo has the speed to close down the middle like he used to and between him and Juwan Howard, I think they will have their hands full between Bosh and Bargnani. Bosh and Bargnani have a lot of speed and the ability to shoot and when you have a guy like Mutumbo who lives to block shots, you can get him standing up straight and then put the ball on the floor against him. This is where the Raptors can really make their athleticism work for them.

Keep in mind that the backcourt is McGrady and Rafer Alston. Now McGrady is probably going to get his, but let’s remember that he isn’t a stranger to sulking a bit and trying to force things when his team gets behind. But if I’m a betting man, I’ll go with T-Mac to get his points. So then you look at Rafer. Rafer still hasn’t learned how to distribute the ball and God love him, he’s still using that insane floater that hardly ever drops. One of these days, he will realize this isn’t the playground and even if it was, that was a long time ago dude.

The Raptors should have a little fire in them after getting slapped around by the Spurs the other night and this could be a good game for them to make a statement. The Rockets have already been talking about how they have to be ready for the Raptors and how they are the third best team since the start of 2007, so maybe the Raptors have actually gotten in the Rockets heads a bit. I’m not going to put a lot of weight into that, but at least it’s something else that can work in the Raptors favour.

If they use their speed against the Rockets, they should make this an entertaining game.

Twisted ankles and Bruce Bowen

So AP comes down on Bruce Bowen’s foot and has a pretty severely sprained ankle. Sound familiar? Isn’t this exactly what Isiah Thomas was talking about when he caused that big furor saying that Bowen intentionally cuts under people?

Now, let’s put in a big caveat here. Isiah Thomas says a lot of stupid stuff. The guy also isn’t the most respected person in the league anymore (and I say “anymore” because when he was a player, he was widely respected). But maybe Isiah has a point here. If it is happening this frequently, maybe there is some truth to it.

Bowen says that he just plays tight D, so if a guy goes up for a shot and he doesn’t leave his feet, that is naturally going to happen. Okay. But usually when you are that close to somebody, they aren’t going to try to shoot over you, they are going to try to put the ball on the floor. So I’m not completely sure if I buy that idea.

So what motivation does Bowen have to start cutting under people? He’s not a bad guy, I don’t think he would be out to injure players, but then again, if you get enough of a rep of somebody who could injure another player during the game, it might make you think (even for a half second) about your shot, thus altering it.

I don’t know. This is really one issue where I am not sure on which side of the fence I sit. I said earlier that I think Bowen is the best defender in the league and maybe part of that is an intimidation factor. Anyway, if it happens as much as it does against Bowen, you have to start to wonder…

Spurs are just better

Here are some numbers for you to ponder. 42, 25, 68.4. That’s what the Raptors shot from the floor, from 3-pt range and from the line. Simply not going to do it. Now let’s be honest, this was against the Spurs, one of the most complete basketball teams in the league, if not the most complete team. This is a team that can actually have a player of Manu’s ability coming off the bench most games. This is a team that has in my opinion the hands down best defender in the league in Bruce Bowen. This is a team that has Tim Duncan pulling down rebounds (16) like nobody’s business and then being able to put the points up there too. The Raptors simply aren’t there yet.

Let’s not take anything away from how the Raptors have been playing lately, they have been moving the ball well, scoring and sometimes even playing some D. When they have faced some of the better teams in the league, they have been doing fairly well because they have been able to use their speed and capitalize on mismatches. The problem is, when you get a team like the Spurs who tend to control the tempo and get back on D, you can’t execute the kind of game you want to. They dictate how the game is going to flow.

The Raptors were handily beaten in just about every aspect of the game last night. The only area they managed to do better than the Spurs in was not turning the ball over as much as them, but if you’re not doing anything in transition, that doesn’t matter a whole lot. Nice work between TJ and Jose last night, I am really enjoying the pressure they are starting to put on the opposing team: TJ had 2 more steals last night and Jose had one too. Pure hustle and timing between them.

The Raptors were basically shut down last night. Parker: Shut down (and injured). Bosh: Shut down early. It was good to see Juan Dixon have a solid game, that can only make the Raptors brass happy. Look for his minutes to increase if he keeps performing like last night.

Anyway, now on to Houston. While a good team, I think the Raptors can take Houston…I’ll tell you why later.

This is backwards…but now a few words on the Pacers game

The game from last night was more in my head, so I wrote about that one first, but anyway, on we go to the Pacers game from Friday night.

I’ve already commented on that 18-1 run in the fourth by the Pacers (by the Pacers BENCH I may add) and how there are some deficiencies that have to be addressed there. But just in a bit more detail, when another team is making a run, especially when they are doing it with their bench, it becomes something more than just a run. It becomes a movement. It becomes a feeling, something you can get behind if you are one of the players. You start to believe that when the starters aren’t coming through, that your team is deep enough to still pull it out. That’s a dangerous thing. The last thing any team on the floor wants is to have their competition start believing in themselves when you have been making them second-guess the whole night. When the Pacers started making that run, there should have been a timeout early, a tongue-lashing from the coach (that is Sam, right?) and then a few changes. This may sound a little crazy, but this is where you may want to put in a guy like Hump, because even though his abilities are limited, the dude is going to knock a few people around in there, not making it as easy for them to move.

In those situations, you also want to get up close on players, forcing them to put the ball on the floor. Too many times, the Raptors were sitting back and letting the Pacers take open jumpers. Armstrong was back there dropping 3s with nobody around. That plays right into the hands of guys coming off the bench, because they can be nice and relaxed and get into a flow. You need to force guys to go down the middle and have to deal with the elbows and bodies flying around in the paint. That being said, once you force guys into the middle, you have to make life rough for them. The Pacers had so many finger rolls dropping in the lane, it was starting to get embarrassing.

The 4th quarter was disastrous. 19 points isn’t good and defensive lapses are worse. The Raps are good, but they aren’t good enough to sit back just because they had a good 2nd quarter. They have to keep the work ethic up for the whole game if they plan on doing anything in the playoffs (assuming they get there).

Okay, now on to a few things outside of the Raptors. Did anyone catch the Pistons-Bulls game today? Since they picked up C-Webb, the Pistons are back to being the Pistons. They are clearly the class in the East. Great game to watch.

Also, just being a basketball fan, please tell me some people watched the Ohio State - Wisconsin game today. Another close game, although not as high scoring as I thought it might be.

P.S. - Sorry for being so scattered, lots of different thoughts here, but Joey Graham, prepare for your minutes to dwindle if you keep performing like this. With the addition of Juan Dixon, there may be more flexibility now, which could lead to your Stray Cat tendencies finding a home on the bench.

Interesting stuff in SI

Just a few interesting things I saw in Sports Illustrated over the past few weeks. The first is that according to SI’s mid-season report, they have Jorge Garbajosa as the Rookie of the Year, saying that he puts numbers up straight across the board. Interesting selection, because you don’t hear him being ranked number 1 very often (outside of the rookie rankings). Most of the pundits around put Garbo lower on the list, instead preferring to go with Gay, Millsap, Bargnani, etc. It may go to show just how underappreciated Garbo is. He has the remarkable ability to have some slow feet on defense, but still play tight D. He gets himself in the proper position and is good at anticipating plays, so that makes up for his slow feet. He also has quick hands, which allow him to pick off passes in the lane.

In another issue of SI, there was a poll of players in the league asking who was the fastest player in the league. Sure enough, there’s TJ Ford at number one with 25% of the vote. Next was Iverson with 18%. Slowest player was Yao Ming, with 35% of the vote (and that’s when he’s healthy too). TJ’s speed is starting to show on defense, as he is becoming a pain when players try to go around him and has picked up a knack of coming in from behind for steals. He is starting to get the timing down on steals, knowing when to go in so that he won’t pick up reach-in fouls.

Anyway, just some info I thought might be of interest.

U.G.L.Y…you ain’t got no alibi…

Okay, so it was a win, but it was definitely an ugly win. Back in school, that used to be what we would call “Fugly”. You can guess what the F stood for.

But in every ugly game, there are always a few gems you can take away and here are a couple from last night. The first is that the Raptors were 20-23 from the line, which is what you have to do to put games away. Driving and getting to the line is one thing, but being able to sink your free throws and get those easy points is another.

I don’t know how many people realized it (there wasn’t much comment on it last night), but TJ and Jose were on the floor at the same time for quite a while before the end of the first half and I loved it. Charlotte couldn’t keep up with the pace the Raptors were setting and the ball movement was great. TJ was getting the ball up court quickly, dishing out to Jose, who would roll out to AP, then you’d see it come back around. In the end, TJ and Jose both had good nights and I really liked having them on the court at the same time. Maybe something to think about in the future if you just need to shake things up during a game. Nice work by Sam.

Bosh was almost invisible in the first half, but then took over in the second, capping off a nice night. I’m still not a fan of him settling for outside jumpers, I’d rather see him going hard or using his athleticism in the low post, which he did as the game went along. Because of his size and agility, he is tough to defend, as some of the big guys in the league are too bulky and some of the quicker guys are too short. He needs to keep exploiting that fact down the stretch.

Anyway, for a lot of last night the Raptors looked lost and they are going to be exposed if they play like that tomorrow. You can’t play down to the level of your competition. I’m not completely sold on the Raptors D being big last night either, I think the Cats just weren’t hitting shots.

The Brazilian Civilian

As much as I used to ride Rafael Araujo during his time here in Toronto, I can’t say that I’m not quietly rooting for him to book another contract next year. After an arguably career-night yesterday against the Denver Nuggets, I thought it’d only be suiting to pay a small tribute to Hoffa. In case you didn’t see the box score, Hoffa played a career high 33 minutes, notched 10 rebounds, and registered 3 personal fouls. That’s one foul every 11 minutes - you heard right. Here are a couple of videos to bring us back to reality.

So many things wrong

Okay, I know it’s coming, so I may as well talk about it right off the top (and this goes for you too Ben, so please don’t email me at work tomorrow). TJ Ford did NOT, I repeat, NOT lose the game for the Raptors. Did he make a good decision down the stretch? Not even close. His dribble, dribble, dribble drive option was a poor decision, no other way to put it. That being said, I don’t think Bosh was really an option since Varejao was neutralizing him all night (and dunking on him…but more on that later), but there was plenty of time for a drive and dish to either MoPete or AP, two capable shooters.

I know I am undoubtedly going to hear about how Calderon shows better court management down the stretch and maybe he does, but that being said, let’s look at what happened at the end of the game. Bargnani on an open look from Ford, missed. Bosh, open look from Ford, missed. Bargnani, turnover, 3 second violation. Bosh jumper off a Ford pass, missed. Bargnani finally hits from Ford (8th assist). AP misses a layup. Anyway, it goes on, but please don’t talk to me about TJ not creating opportunities down the stretch or being a good floor general, because truth be told, while he made a HORRIBLE decision down the stretch, he did provide the Raptors with more than enough opportunities to put the game away.

The funny thing is, the point people keep harping on with Ford is that he makes poor decisions, but I don’t think that’s really the case. Yes, he a made a bad decision tonight (Sam, you have to take the lead here and make it clear what is option A and option B or even C), but my concern more than anything is the turnovers. 4 tonight. Not tragic, but not good. I think that is something that has to be addressed before decision making. Decision making can be helped via the coach, but turnovers…well, you have to hold on to your luggage! I also think that if you are going to be a starting point guard who is strong at driving and drawing fouls, then you have to shoot above 80% from the line.

Now, Mr. Bosh. You’re an All-Star. So how is it that you manage to forget basketball fundamentals and have Varejao dunk over you when you should have boxed him out and shipped him back to Cleveland? As soon as that shot went up, Bosh should have back that ass up and gotten Varejao out of the way, especially when you know the guy is a beast on the boards. Poor execution by Bosh. You can’t forget the basics if you want to be a real winner. Those little things win games.

As we’ve said a million times before, coming out of timeouts, the Raptors never look ready. It’s like they were talking about the All-Star game during their timeout and then come out onto the floor with no set play. As much as I hate Phil Jackson, watch the Lakers when they come out of a break. 3 options ready. You think Jerry Sloan has the Jazz walking onto the court looking like the Raptors coming out of a break? No way. Sam, this HAS to improve.

Anyway, should be interesting against the Pacers on Friday.

Trade Deadline Looming

So the trade deadline isn’t far away and people are wondering if Colangelo is going to do anything. Essentially, here are the questions he has to ask himself right now:

1. Am I happy with this team as it is right now? If not, do I risk making a trade for now that may hinder me in the future?

2. Is this team simply hot and overachieving right now? If I don’t make a move, will the Raptors cool down and then have missed a possible opportunity?

3. Is there anything really of value that would help the Raptors right now?

4. Should I just let things run and then when the free agent market opens up, take a look at what’s available?

Here’s what I think is going to happen for the Raptors. Nothing. Will it surprise me if Colangelo does pull something off? No, he’s good at what he does and makes deals when the proper opportunity arises, but I think in this current situation, there isn’t anything that will make a lot of sense for the Raptors. There has been so much talk about Maggette and a while back I said that there were rumblings about him going to the Kings, but now it doesn’t even look like that is going to happen. Maggette is what Joey Graham SHOULD be (God knows Joey isn’t even close), but at the same time, his game is somewhat similar to MoPete’s, except Mo has better D.

Other than that, what’s there really for the Raptors to do right now? It would be nice to have somebody who could bang and bring in a few boards, but is there anybody really out there who is even worth the money that woul come attached to them? Nope.

Right now, the Raptors should just keep running on cruise control and hope that coming out of the break, they’re not flat. The team is good enough to make a run in the playoffs (assuming they get there) and they will still have other teams not taking them seriously, even though they should be (as was mentioned on GameDay on ESPN Radio last night).

It will be interesting to see what happens around the rest of the league and most of the movement will probably come in the East. Funny situation in NJ. If the Nets trade Kidd, then it won’t look as rosy for Carter to stay, since he can opt out of his contract at year’s end. So if that’s the case, then do they deal him too? I’m watching to see how that whole situation pans out.

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