Archive for November, 2007

Cavs Minus LeBron = My High School Team

For the sake of my argument here, let’s ignore the fact that in games where LeBron has not played, the Cavs are 6-2. The Cavs tonight looked like my old high school team. Lost, looking for outlets that weren’t there, knowing that their options were limited. Essentially, what we saw tonight was the “Pass it To Will” episode of the Fresh Prince, but without Will Smith in the lineup. When anybody other than LeBron was taking shots, it just didn’t work out…and since LeBron wasn’t playing tonight…yeah, it just didn’t work out.

That’s the difference between the Raptors and the Cavs. If the Raptors have to play an extended period without their star, Chris Bosh, I think that most of us would say that while it would hurt, the Raptors would probably be able to get along. If the Cavs have to play without LeBron for an extended period, they just don’t have the depth the Raptors do. This is where the Raptors can make some other teams nervous. If they see Toronto just coming up with player after player off the bench, each guy knowing his role, accepting it and then delivering, then this is the kind of team you don’t want to see in the playoffs. In the playoffs, you know that your star is going to win you a couple of games, but you are also going to need the rest of the team to show up when the star is getting locked down and if it comes down to that, then I’ll take the Raptors over most teams. Problem for the Raptors is shutting down other teams.

For the Cavs, Daniel Gibson showed why I think he is one of the really bright young stars in the NBA. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think they would have done anything special in the playoffs last year, even with LeBron’s heroics. 24 points with 7 assists and 3 turnovers is an exceptional night, but you could tell that Gibson was making a concerted effort to carry the team in LeBron’s absence. Gooden was a beast on the boards, but who knows what Big Z was doing out there tonight and somebody needed to tell Pavlovic to stop shooting, because he looked like he had a shot put in his hands each time he launched.

I’ll tell you what, if the Raptors keep this 30 minute / 20 minute split for Jose and TJ, they are going to win a lot of games. Let Jose start, getting the game off to a nice, controlled pace. Then bring in TJ to unsettle the other team, using his speed and ability to shift gears to keep them off balance. I also like the fact that using them like this keeps them both fresh, which they are going to need down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Speaking of Jose and TJ, another solid game for Calderon. A double-double in just over 30 minutes, but whoa, hold the phone!!! 3 turnovers? WHA? The sky is falling, the sky is falling! The fact that that stat even pops out shows how good he is at controlling the ball. I’m not sure if TJ is 100%, but that dude looked tired out there. He looked like somebody who just came off the flu, trying to get out to cover guys, but just not having the energy in his legs.

Nice work by Jamario Speedwagon and Rasho out there. 9 boards apiece shows some toughness that has been desperately lacking from the Raptors. Given, LeBron wasn’t in there to pick up his boards, but the Cavs still have some strength up there in Big Z and Gooden, so while those guys got theirs, you have to commend Jamario and Rasho for working hard.

Couldn’t call it a night without talking about Bargnani and Delfino. I would still like to see Bargnani put the ball on the floor a bit more and attack, but when he gets that shot going, you can’t fault the guy for jacking it up. He could actually take a few pointers from Delfino’s game tonight. Just when the Cavs started to get up in Delfino’s face on his jumpers, he put the ball on the floor and had some impressive lay-ins, even a little finger-roll in the 4th quarter.

Alright, Saturday night basketball! Raps and Wiz coming up.

Raptors, Cavaliers….. up NEXT.

Much like Paris Hilton’s much-hyped trip to Rwanda, tonight’s game between the Toronto Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers might feature some other no-show’s due to the Christmas injury bug. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani, and TJ Ford are slated as game time decisions, leaving court side ticket holders more time to enjoy the theatrics of the air-filled Raptors mascot.

The Cavs come into this game winning 8 of the last 9 meetings, the most recent of which LeBron dropped a huge triple double on the scorer’s table. If LeBron plays tonight, then Jamario Moon will once again have to come up big. After his last assignment against the King, Moon remarked that despite all the scouting reports and video he watched, LeBron was bigger and faster on the court than he could’ve ever anticipated. James is putting up career numbers averaging over 30 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists a game. What did you expect, Jamario?

The Raptors will need to play hard interior defense to keep this game close. Don’t look to the Cavs to be satisfied playing much perimeter tonight. Aside from Damon Jones and Daniel Gibson floating along the arc, Cleveland will be looking to take it inside pretty much all game. Toronto’s defence has been spotty the last few games, and in the event Bosh sits out tonight, it’s going to be a tough night in the paint shop stopping the Cav’s big men.

Cleveland boasts 6th in the league in opponent’s scoring and 3rd in the league in rebounding, which doesn’t bode well for a Toronto team that struggles with rebounding. This may be one of those games where the Raptors will yet again live and die by the three. But with so many question marks as to the starting lineups, it’ll be interesting to see how the game pans out tonight.

Enjoy the game.

Raps vs. Grizzlies (Game 2)

The Raptors need to be ready for this game, it is one they need, as they will have back to back games on Friday and Saturday, with Cleveland and Washington. Cleveland is starting to look comfortable (just beat Boston) and Washington is SOMEHOW playing better ball WITHOUT Agent 0 in the lineup.

But back to the game against the Grizz. Just a week ago, the Raptors were able to finish off the Grizz, with a 95-89 win. Just to jog your memory, that was the monster rebound game by Bosh, where he grabbed 19 boards and dropped in 22 points to boot.

The key for the Raptors in that game was their ability to shut down the Grizzlies’ star players, not letting anyone get above 16 points. The Raptors were actually a little bit tough that night, making guys uncomfortable to the point where they were taking shots that were not what they are accustomed to.

This game will see the return of Rasho from his life threatening sprained ankle (I guess they finally got around to that exorcism, getting the Vince demon out of Rasho), which means that Bargnani will head back to the bench. The question is, which Andrea are we going to see come out. Is this an opportunity for him to make a statement, where he shows Sam that he doesn’t want to go back to the bench, that he wants to be in the starting lineup every night? Or are we going to see the Andrea who is going to sit there and accept it, come out and take a few jumpers, pick up some quick fouls and sit down? The outcome of the game may depend on which Andrea we see.

TJ will not be back until probably the weekend. Word is that he is still having some trouble with his hand, that it isn’t the “stinger.” Um…getting a little nervous about that whole situation. Then again, maybe the Raptors are taking everything a bit more cautiously after the whole Garbo incident. It’s not like we don’t have another guy in there to run the show, but I don’t think it’s healthy to have any point guard out there for 41 minutes a game. Even Calderon said the other night that he was getting a little tired. D-Mart, put down that burger and run some laps! The Raptors need you.

Should be an interesting game, but this is one the Raptors should win. Stick with Bosh and his newly found agressive game, use Jamario’s energy on D and get him right up on Gasol and Gay, because while Grizz management thinks those two guys are tough, I beg to differ. Neither one of them likes to get that physical and will opt for a jumper if put to the test.

Enjoy the game.

A Whole Lot of Garb(age)

This whole deal with Garbo and whether or not he should have had surgery is bordering on ridiculous if you think about it. The fact that we are only now arriving at a situation between team and player (and national basketball team and country) months after the incident took place and months after the Euros, just shows how poorly this whole thing has been handled.

I tend to side more with players when it gets down to these sort of situations, because I think players more often than not, do not have their point of view always expressed as clearly and with as much spin work as the organization does. But this time, I really have to side with the Raptors, but just barely.

Let’s make this very clear from the start. There is no way Garbo should have been playing in the Euros. Sure, the Raptors had the insurance out on him and he was cleared (by somebody) to play, but that was a situation where the Raptors brass should have stepped up and said, look dude, there is no way you are playing in this tournament, especially if you aren’t having surgery on your leg. What athlete do you know who when confronted by doctors saying that he needs surgery to get his body back to where it needs to be to compete, will look them in the face and say, “Nah, I’ll be alright.” This wasn’t like he had a strained muscle. Anyone who saw Garbo’s leg snap that night knew that some extensive surgery would be required. We didn’t need doctors to tell us that.

Somebody posted a comment a while ago asking if I thought that the Raptors were punishing Garbo for playing in the Euros by sitting him on the bench. I said that I didn’t think they were punishing him, but more that he probably wasn’t where he should be (at least that’s what I remember saying, and I’m too lazy to check right now). I figure that the Raptors were trying to figure out what was going on with Garbo’s leg without risking it any more than they had to. Get a look at him on the floor, how he is moving and then do some further tests. It just seems to be a long time into the season to shut a guy down.

The honest truth is that by Garbo playing in the Euros, he made a completely selfish decision. He has to realize that he is an NBA player now. N-B-A. This is the bigs. This is where the best come to play. This is where you earn your living. Garbo surely would have been around for the next Euros, it’s not like he is going to lose speed as he ages. He will be 75 and still move as “quickly” as he does now. By choosing his country over his team, Garbo showed a selfish side that few people in Toronto thought he had.

It is well known that Colangelo is a supporter of his players playing for their countries, but this is a situation where he should have stepped up and said that under no circumstances was Garbo to play in that tournament. Sometimes you just can’t leave that decision up to a player. While there are more factors going into Steve Nash’s decision not to play for Canada at recent tournaments (hello Leo?), Nash also said that he needed to rest his body so he could be ready for the NBA season. This is a guy who didn’t even snap his leg. That’s a player who is hungry for an NBA championship. Now I have to wonder, Garbo may be hungry, but which plate does he want to eat from?

Seriously, what’s up with the Bulls?

You can expect Bosh to do it to you. You can expect Calderon to do it to you. You can even expect Bargnani to do it to you. But when Jamario Moon comes out and puts down 15 points, 9 boards, 6 blocks and 3 steals on your team, you officially have problems. This isn’t to take away anything from Moon, who has been a complete diamond in the rough since arriving from the wastelands of basketball. Moon has primarily done what he has been brought here to do, bring energy and rebound the ball. But when he is having his way with your team, making himself look like a savvy NBA veteran, you seriously have to wonder what is going on with your team.

Let’s not sum this up to the Bulls being bad though, they had all kinds of problems matching up with Moon. They couldn’t handle his energy on the boards, which you can sort of expect at the end of a long road trip. Luol Deng had a good night, but Moon also did well switching and rotating through screens, picking up his new man and closing down quickly.

This game showed what I was talking about with Calderon. If you give him those kind of minutes (in the 40+ range), he is going to get his assists. He has a good command of the floor and sees where lanes are going to pop open. But today, when he was getting himself set and using his legs to elevate through open jumpers, he started to make those shots. Once again, people will talk about the numbers in the double-double (19 and 14), but you have to love the 1 in the turnover column. That could be a number even more important than the other two. I’ll just sit back and wait for the TJ/Jose conversations to start again! Lol…before you comment, you know I love them both, okay? Jeez. How about running them on the court at the same time? It has been done before…

There hasn’t been a lot of talk about it, but you have to be impressed with the Raptors from the free throw line. We’ve been saying it forever, that getting to the line is one thing, hitting free throws is another. I still don’t think the Raptors get to the line nearly enough (especially considering how well they shoot from there), but you have to enjoy the fact that when they get to the line, they’re lethal. That is how you close out games. If you can put points on the board without the clock moving, while also putting other players in foul trouble, you are going to make the game that much easier.

Back to the Bulls for a minute. Kirk Hinrich said, “There’s no fun in moral victories…I feel like we played better but we lost the game and we struggled down the stretch again.”. Kirk, dude, buddy. You felt like your team played better? Better than what? Better than that embarrassing loss to the Knicks? You shot 38% from the floor, 60% from the line, were outrebounded by THE RAPTORS, turned the ball over 12 times and scored 78 points. That’s an improvement? Hey boss, I’m all about trying to find the positives, but at some point, you have to say that you are letting yourselves down and that you have to figure out what it takes to win, including having some balls to admit that right now, you just don’t know how to win. You’re good at finding all kinds of ways to lose, but you don’t know how to win.

That’s all.

Raps vs. Bulls (Game 2) Preview

The last time these two teams met, the Raptors were a rude houseguest for the Bulls, slapping them around for a 101-71 loss that included a season low 33.3 shooting percentage. One would have thought that game would have been a point for the Bulls to turn things around, to say that it can’t get any worse, that the only way to go is up…well…after losing by 7 to the Knicks yesterday, where they only scored 78 points and shot 34.5 from the floor, I would say that could be viewed as worse.

I just can’t put my finger on what is going wrong with the Bulls, who come into today’s game at 2-9 and are one of the worst teams in the league. The Kobe drama can only be blamed for so much, because at some point, you have to put those things out of your mind and play some ball. The talk around Kobe has essentially been shut down anyway, so you can’t fall back on that excuse anymore.

Luol Deng has been having some back issues, which has caused him to miss their last three games, but reports have him returning to the lineup today against the Raptors. As you know, always one of my favourite guys to watch play, but is he going to have that same sort of agility out there with a sore back? We will have to wait and see just how recovered he is, because if he is in the lineup, Moon is going to be on him really close, forcing him to take it hard inside and if you have a bad back, the last thing you want to be doing is getting into the lane on a repetitive basis (then again, going in the lane against the Raptors isn’t exactly like going in the lane against the Bad Boy Pistons back in the day).

Nice to see Bargnani starting to turn his game around and once again, I think it has to do with him not looking like a homeless guy anymore. Maybe some Woodbridge boys had a talk with him. He’s right around the 15 point mark in his past few games, which is what the Raptors need from him on a nightly basis. If Bargnani puts things together today, matchups are going to be tough for the Bulls, who really just want to get back home at the end of a road trip. The last thing they want to see is Bargnani shooting well, when they are going to have to deal with Bosh, who has been hotter than the back cover of Jully Black’s Revival CD (tried to find a link, can only find the front cover…trust me, worth the trip to HMV).

Early start today, don’t miss it…Raps should have this one, the Bulls just want to go home. Hey, theory here. The Raptors had a long winning streak against the Bulls, then the Bulls rolled off something like 16 straight against the Raptors, now the Raptors have a few in a row against the Bulls…here we go again?

Losses You Can Live With

The loss against the Cavs was one of those ones where if you are going to lose a game, you want it to be one like that. You want their best player to come out and be the best player and LeBron James did just that, dropping a triple-double on the Raptors. Moon had his problems with LeBron, but so did Delfino and anybody who switched onto him, but that’s not to say that they really played poor defence against him, because they didn’t. There isn’t any way you can guard against a turnaround, fall-away jumper, especially when the guy gets huge elevation off it too. The one thing I was a little disappointed with was some of the interior defence played by the rest of the Raptors, as James was able to dish out 12 assists. We said coming in that they would have to watch out for LeBron’s passing ability, so if you aren’t able to stop his scoring, you have to try to shut down the available passing lanes.

The irony from yesterday’s game is that the Cavs came out and shot 43.3% from 3, which is really what you would have expected the Raptors to do. Unfortuntately, the Raptors came out shooting bricks from beyond the arc, going 6-21, which ultimately sealed their fate. Keep in mind that a couple of those shots were Kapono’s gems down the stretch. It’s nice to see a guy come through in situations that he was brought in for. Those key 3’s near the end of the game in pressure situations were exactly why Kapono was brought to Toronto, so credit to him for stepping up with the game on the line.

What to say about Chris Bosh? Ever since that Golden State game, Bosh has been playing like he has something to prove, which he did since he started the season a little less enthusiastically than we are used to. Bosh has been demanding the ball, but what I love seeing is him making quicker decisions once he receives that pass. Every once in a while, he still eats a lot of the clock after getting the pass, but he has made notable progression in receiving the ball, checking his options and then acting on them. Some great pivot moves have had his defenders leaving the ground, while Bosh then finishes with some emphatic dunks. That’s how the Raptors need Bosh to play if they are going to do anything, if they plan on making a run in the playoffs.

Jose Calderon had another one of those great passing, poor shooting games. He logged a lot of minutes, just over 40, but what you have to love is that along with his 13 assists, he had 0 turnovers. As far as ratios go, that is remarkable. You have to love the ball control that you get when Jose is running things on the floor. He has a good handle and has good lane recognition, which is why when he’s logging minutes like yesterday, more often than not, you are probably going to see him in that double digit assist range. I would still like to see him use his legs a little more when he’s shooting, it would probably help with his percentages a bit, but he is getting good looks, so that is really just a matter of time.

Anyway, a tough loss, but definitely one of those ones you can handle.

Raps vs. Cavs Preview

What to make of this Cavs team? I don’t think you’d find too many people around the league who would say that they fully bought that run to the finals last year. Take Boobie Gibson out of the equation against the Pistons and Detroit takes that series. That was totally one of those “get hot at the right time” situations. Now that isn’t to say that the Cavs aren’t a good team, because they are, but they’re not NBA Finals good (and that was exposed in the Finals).

So what gives today? The Raptors have lost 5 straight at Cleveland, but they are playing well on the road this year. Cleveland can’t win at home, but they kicked the Raptors all around the court last year. LeBron James is having an awesome start to the season, but he’s going to be facing a guy who has surprisingly turned into one of the Raptors best defenders in Jamario Moon, who has relished playing against a lot of top players this season, not allowing anybody over 20 points. So, I ask again, what gives?

Here are a few things that the Raptors are going to have to take care of today if they want to pull this one out:

1. Shut down LeBron. SURE. Easy enough, right? Well, here’s the thing about LeBron. People always talk about his scoring ability, but let’s not forget that LeBron has led all forwards in assists for four straight years. He averaged 6 assists per game last year, averaged 6.5 against the Raptors last year and in his last four games has averaged 8.8 assists. The Raptors are going to have to make sure that they get on him quickly, but even more so, they are going to have to make sure that they stick with their men and clog up the lane or LeBron will make it a rough afternoon in Cleveland (that sounds like it could be a movie title).

2. Keep the rebounding game close. The Cavs can rebound, plain and simps. They are second in the league in rebounding and when you have the ability to put 100 on the board each night and are playing against a team that isn’t strong rebounding, it spells bad news for the Raptors. The key will be to get bodies on Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Drew Gooden, making sure that they have to work to get a rebound. Those are two big guys who like to bang inside and do a good job of getting putbacks to the point where I am more worried about them putting the boots to the Raptors than I am LeBron.

3. If it’s there, take the 3. I know, I can’t believe I said it either. The Raptors have a tendency to fall in love with the 3 and while sometimes it leads to wins, it also has that other side to it, where balls rattle around and the opposing team ignores them inside. With Cleveland, it’s a nightmare inside. Those are 3 big rebounding dudes inside who aren’t afraid to get a little rough if they have to and God knows the Raptors aren’t tough. With Cleveland allowing teams to drop 102 points on them and the Raptors coming in as the league’s 3-point team to beat, this might be a game where you look for some dribble penetration and then kickout for 3. Perimeter movement of the ball can also lead to some good looks from 3, so if the Raptors have some decent ball movement, they could be able to pull this out.

How nice is it to have Saturday afternoon baseketball? Looking foward to seeing how Moon handles the pressure of facing LeBron. Let’s just hope that if somebody takes Moon’s legs out from under him tonight, somebody on the Raptors steps up and at least says, “Hey, er…you can’t do that to my teammate.” Hump! Where you at?!!!

Okay, I Like TJ, but…

Anyone who reads RF knows that I love TJ AND Jose. Said it a million times how lucky we are to have both of those guys in Raptors red. But even I have my limits. I can see the faults in TJ’s game and I point them out a lot of the time. I think he’s a good young point guard, but I’m not sure if I would agree with Don Nelson.

In case you missed it, Don Nelson, coach of the Warriors, said, “He’s as close to Nash as anyone I’ve seen.” WHA??? Nellie, you’ve gotta cut back on grampa’s cough medicine! If that’s the closest you’ve seen, then you either have some serious explaining to do or you’re just not watching that much basketball. I’m a TJ fan and I think you’re nuts on this one. When I start seeing Nash attack when nothing is there, look off other players and force shots, get going so fast he’s out of control and then dishes to nobody, then I’ll say TJ is close to Nash.

Nash is starting to slip tough…lol.

Raptors Finish Strong

Well, it was certainly nice to see the Raptors turn the tables for once and finish a game strong. It was also nice to see Bargnani looking a little better for the second consecutive game, I think it may have had something to do with the shave and the haircut. I would still like to see him fake that outside shot and then get a little closer (Dirk did that the other night a few times and then it set up that 3-point clinic he put on near the end of the 3rd to pretty much lock up the game). If Bargnani can put that fake into his arsenal, then he is going to be that much of a better player. Let’s also give some props to Bargnani for his 11 boards. A lot of them were uncontested, but he was getting into position and grabbing what was within his reach and you can’t ask for a lot more than that from a 7′ shooting guard…oh wait, he’s not a shooting guard…

Credit to Chris Bosh, who played a ton of minutes against the Mavs and then went out tonight and had a big night on the boards. The scoring part is easy, but when you have to come out and do a ton of rebounding after you just went up against one of the best teams in the league the night before and logged a lot of minutes, well that deserves some praise. Is it just me or a couple of times when Bosh was bringing down some rebounds, did he not remind you for a half second of Oak? The hair, the grunting, I dunno, maybe it was just me.

For all of those TJ haters out there, a decent game by Calderon tonight, but far from what he is capable of. 4-13 from the floor, including some poor decisions down the stretch with a minute and a half left in the game, jacking up a brick that only hit backboard. Then uncharacteristically didn’t get back on D, two the other way. Next time down the court, pulls a TJ and drives right to the basket, only to launch a pass way back to the top, over Delfino’s head. Over and back, Memphis ball. Still, he had 8 assists and 4 rebounds, but I am just making a point that if that was TJ in there, God knows we would have heard all about his poor decisions and tendency to shoot even when he wasn’t hot. Nobody will talk about Jose’s 4-13 and not so sharp passing. I’m going to blame some of that on fatigue, it’s tough to go from 20 minutes a night to 40, that can make the arms and legs feel dead on the back half of a back to back.

D-Mart, 0-4 baby! Drown your sorrows with a swing through the BK Lounge drive-thru. Stack that, STACK IT!

It seems to be simple formula for the Raptors, that when they share the ball, they win games. When 6 guys get in double digits, that is going to result in a few more W’s. Somehow, the Raptors still managed to get outrebounded…okay, I shouldn’t say “somehow”, the Grizz actually have some size up front, but they sure don’t seem to be too hell bent on getting into position to use any of that size. They are only a couple of spots ahead of the Raptors in rebounding and conisdering the makeup they have up front, they should be at least halway up the block.

Once again, Sam proved that he couldn’t draw up a play if somebody drew it for him, gave him a piece of onion paper to put over it and then trace it. I have never seen a team come out of TV timeouts or their own called timeouts and look so disorganized. Roaches when the lights come on man, roaches. Let’s not forget that while the Raptors got the win tonight, they were dismal from the floor, shooting 39%. It’s a bloody miracle they were able to win with that kind of shooting percentage. That’s why it is that much more important for your coach to be able to generate some offence. It’s sort of like manufacturing a run in baseball. If things are going well at the plate, you’re going to have to move a runner, get guys moving, force the other team to make an error to get your offence going. Force their defence into making a mistake or two and then suddenly your offence can get going.

By the way, have you ever seen so many airballs from short range? WTF?