Archive for December, 2007

Raptors give the Mavericks another go

The last time the Raptors faced off against the Mavericks in Dallas back on November 20th, Dirk Nowitzki went off. During one stretch during the third quarter, he reeled off four straight long balls to bring his team back from a 24 point deficit to win the game. Bosh and Bargnani both had big games that night, so they’re going to have to step it up again tonight in order to keep this game competitive.

Without TJ Ford in the line up tonight, it’ll be up to Jose Calderon to lead the charge, and you can bet Calderon fans are salivating at the thought of having him run the team for the next few games. Just keep in mind that no matter who you like more, this team will always be better with the both of them on the roster. The TJ/Jose debates really need to go away.

But whichever way you look at it, this can be one of those games where you decide you’re going to win it for your team mate. When TJ went down, there was a definite ominous feeling in the air, and players were genuinely frightened given TJ’s injury history. You can bet that in the huddle tonight, they’ll be playing this one for him. That being said, Dallas is coming into the game winning only 3 of their last 9 games. It would be a great time to jump on their current struggles, while using the recent loss in Dallas as experience on how to prevent the same embarrassment from happening again.

The problem is, Dirk has a history of enjoying great success against the Raptors, and knowing how to shut him down is a lot easier than actually doing it. Statistically, Dallas is better at scoring, preventing their opponents from scoring, and crashing the boards. Perimeter defense will once again be an issue with Nowitski, Howard, and Terry roaming the arc, all who have either been playing well lately or have the ability to throw daggers at the Raptors in crunch time. Bosh will once again have to establish a strong inside presence all game to establish a solid offensive rhythm. With Jose running the offense, it should be more controlled. The worst possible thing you could do is have the offense run through 2 or 3 different players with no sets against the Mavericks, because they will disassemble the offense quite easily with their playing style. Establishing a rhythm early and not allowing Dirk to get into his will be key tonight.

Enjoy the game.

Raps vs. 2007-2008 NBA Champion Boston Celtics Preview (Game 2)

Well, the last time (which was the first time) the Raptors faced the Celtics, we thought the Raps could take them and take them they almost did, going into overtime before eventually losing. This time, I’m not so confident considering the health of the team.

I would hope that Bosh would be ready to make an appearance in this game, but then you have to wonder if this is the game you really want to try to bring him back in. Groin pulls are serious things, you really have to be careful with them or else they can turn into one of those injuries that just stays with a player the whole season. The last thing you want is Bosh trying to stop Kevin Garnett and end up on the floor in pain.

You could say that the Celtics are 9-0 at home and are due for a loss. You could also say that the Celtics are 5-0 in divisional play and are due for a loss. You could point out that they have won 4 in a row and are due for a loss. You coudl also point out that when an opposing team scores 100+ points, this Celtics team is .500! Well, there you go! THAT’S something to gear up for (let’s just conveniently forget that when the Raptors give up more than 100, they’re 2-7…and let’s also forget that the Raptors are due for one of their “Hey, let’s get our asses kicked tonight” games).

But it shouldn’t be all doom and gloom for the Raptors. I don’t know how much it will happen, but RF readers know that I like when Sam rolls out TJ and Jose at the same time. I think it is more of a last ditch attempt at generating some sort of a spark (as was the case against the Suns Wednesday night), but I just like the energy it brings to the floor.

The key for the Raptors will be to keep this as close as possible going into the half. When the Raptors are up at halftime, they are 9-3. That’s significant. What’s even more significant is that when they are behind at the half, they are 1-6, yep, ONE AND SIX. In addition to that let’s remember that if the Raptors are behind at the half, they will be relying on Sam Mitchell to draw something up at various key points in the second half and I think we all know what the result is there. Said it a million times, ROACHES WHEN THE LIGHTS COME ON. Sam might even say that in the huddle now. “Okay guys, let’s run the Roaches When The Lights Come On play…and um…we just didn’t make shots? Where’s Feschuk when I need him?” I don’t think I need to mention (but I will) that when the Raptors are behind after 3, they’re 0-7.

It might sound ridiculous, but for the Raptors, this game might just come down to rebounding. Problem #1 for the Raptors, they aren’t a good rebounding team. Problem #2 for the Raptors, they Celtics are the best in the league at limiting the other teams’ rebounds. Since that is the case, outside of the game coming down to rebounding, the Raptors are going to be jacking’em up. They just aren’t healthy enough to be doing anything inside, so it will be Kapono and Delfino looking to shake it up from beyond the arc. Also, TJ owns Rondo, so while many of you will cringe when you hear this, the Raptors will need TJ to be in attack mode.

Enjoy the game.

Raps vs. Suns Preview

Get ready to run. You would think that with Nash turning 34 this year that the guy would be slowing down a bit, that he would be trying to pace himself a little more, that maybe he would be thinking about having energy at the end of the season. Well, so much for that. Nash is putting up great numbers again, leading the league in assists with 11.1 per game. But wait, Jose and TJ are 9th and 10th in assists, which isn’t too shabby.

I said earlier that I thought this was a game the Raptors would be able to compete in without Chris Bosh. If the Raptors are going to play an uptempo game, you would think that they would need a big man who can actually get up and down the court, which Bosh can. It defies logic, but I think that if they do not have Bosh in the lineup, the Raptors are going to focus on a lot of quick ball movement and won’t have to worry about Bosh’s patented hold it for 4 and then decide what to do move.

Speaking of deciding what to do with the ball, I never mentioned Gatorade Graham’s name the other night. Joey had that nice spin move dunk, which was great to see because as soon as he got the ball, he made the move and went to the basket with authority. If you see a guy with a body like that and momentum coming down the lane, you’d better be built like a truck if you plan on any contact. One other quick point: Apparently TJ was all over Joey in practice, playing D on him and trash talking him. Looks like that motivated him a bit, because nobody likes to be punked in front of his teammates, especially by a little guy.

So back to the preview. “Hi, I’m Shawn Marion. I want to be traded. Ah, you know what? Forget it, I don’t want to be traded. I’m just going to says it’s all behind us now and go average a double-double on the season if that’s okay with everybody.” How exactly does this happen? How does it happen that one week you’re the biggest news in Phoenix for wanting out from a team that has a legit shot at the title, the next week, all’s well? Word is that he just wanted to play more at SF, not PF as D’Antoni wants him to. He just wants to play against smaller guys. So my guess is they had one of those, “You will play where we tell you to” conversations and they reminded him the team he was playing for. Maybe they threatened to send him to the Knicks. That’s enough to scare anybody.

You have to like a team that can walk Grant Hill and Leandro Barbosa off the bench. I also think getting Alando Tucker in the draft was a beautiful pickup. He will be a solid player in this league some day.

Keys for the Raptors? Well, you can laugh when we say that Nash has to be shut down, but last year, the Raptors had him shut down until the final few minutes of the fourth quarter, when Nash decided to take over and single-handedly win the game for the Suns. We all know that Nash isn’t that great on D, so they need to try to exploit that fact, make him work harder on D and wear him out as much as they can. In addition to his passing ability, Nash also has the scoring touch, which makes things that much more difficult. Personally, I think your best bet is to play off him a bit and make him beat you with the shot, because once he puts the ball on the floor, he has too many options and is quick to the basket.

The Suns score a lot, but they also give up a lot of points. They’ll drop 108 on you, but they can’t stop you from scoring over 100 either. The Raptors need to stay in it early, because if they fall behind in the first half, they are not going to want to run in the second half, trying to play keep up with the Suns.

Alright, enjoy the game.

Hump Day is now Monday

We’ve said it before, Kris Humphries gets his PT because he knows what he is supposed to do. He even said it in his post game interview. All he has to do is go in there, play hard defensively, rebound and run the floor. Sounds simple and to some degree it is, but it also isn’t as easy as it appears. We have seen a lot of guys lose track of players, completely miss assignments, play too soft on their opponent, but you can rarely catch Hump falling prey to any of those options.

Strange as it was that Hump led the Raptors in scoring, what I liked the most about his game came in two separate instances in the second quarter with the Raptors already pulling away. The first was near the start of the quarter, where Hump stayed active on the boards, in a flurry altering a couple of shots. This led to a miss opportunity by the Bobcats, a Raptors rebound, the ball being pushed quickly up the court, to a waiting Jason Kapono for an easy 3 from the corner. Hump’s effort in the paint on the defensive end not only denied 2 points, it also led to 3 the other way. 5 point play.

The second instance came about halfway through the quarter, where Hump got the ball and immediately took it right at Okafor. No hesitation whatsoever. He pretty much took a good block from Okafor, but there was some contact, which gave Okafor his 3rd foul. That’s good aggressive interior basketball. That play put Okafor in a precarious situation, forcing him to be a little less aggressive defensively, as he could not risk getting a fourth foul going for a block.

To loosely quote Romeo Crennel, Raymond Felton “WAS WHAT WE THOUGHT HE WAS!” A slow footed PG who just won’t stop shooting even when he is cold and has bad looks. 0-8 from the field, 0-1 from 3, 3 assists and a -9. Wow. You almost have to try to end up with a line like that. You could almost hear Okafor saying, “Dude, one time, try me down here. One time!”

If the Raptors didn’t learn anything from Hump’s performance tonight, then they can learn from the bad/good night from Gerald Wallace. Wallace was not good from the floor tonight, going 4-13 along with a couple of 3’s, but he did manage to get to the line, knowing that he had to keep attacking the basket. He went 9-10 from the line, picking up 9 points without the clock moving. That is extremely important when your team is getting pasted. The way back into games like that isn’t from just jacking 3’s (although that helped at the start of the second half), it is from getting to the line and putting points on the board with the clock sitting still.

Good Lord was Jason Richardson terrible tonight. If you are able to ignore his 3-17 and are even able to get past his 3-9 from 3 (what the hell is he doing jacking up 9 3 pointers in a game?), certainly you can’t ignore that schoolyard prayer of a circus shot three minutes into the second quarter. Jason Richardson wasn’t only brought into this team to provide some scoring, he was brought in to be a leader. The Bobcats need Richardson to be a leader, a guy who can show them about winning when you are an underdog and pulling crazy junk like that early in a game just doesn’t cut it. That is the kind of stuff that says to a team that you put yourself above the team. That you think you can make a miraculous shot to turn things around. That’s not being a leader, that’s just being selfish.

Is it about time to start wondering why Jose isn’t getting some calls? Given, he does tend to wipe out a lot after making layups (although not as often as before) and gives a lot of little quick looks to refs after he thinks he has been fouled, but I’m starting to think that he is getting roughed up a bit. Maybe the refs still don’t view him as enough of a vet to get some of those calls. We’ll have to see as the season progresses.

Just a quick note…am I the only one who notices how high Jose dribbles the ball? Then again, he did do his Fred “Curly” Neal impression tonight with that dribble while he was spinning on the floor. Priceless. All we needed was Jamario to steal a woman’s purse.

Okay, final thing here. An inside source says that the reason D-Mart didn’t jack up a 3 to try to get the fans pizza wasn’t because he is a class guy and didn’t want to show up the Bobcats, but because he figured it was just that much more pizza that he could grab after the game. They just can’t make it fast enough for the guy!

Next up, the Suns.

Raps vs. Bobcats Preview

It’s time for the Raptors to take a quick peek at the end of the season. Jersey, Detroit, Miami, Chicago. Three out of those games are going to be tough. So why am I talking about the end of the season now? Because with the way the Raptors are tossing away games, they have to start either thinking about the games they should be winning now or start thinking about the games they may have to win down the stretch.

After a completely disappointing loss to the Wizards, a game which they should have won, the Raptors now have the Bobcats coming into the ACC (what is this, the ugly uni part of the season? First the Wiz, now the Bobcats?). This is a game they need to have. This is a game they where they have to iron out all of the kinks, because the last thing you want to do walking into games with the Suns and the Celtics is start worrying about parts of your game.

This game shapes up nicely for the Raptors for a variety of reasons. First, the Bobcats can’t score. 23rd in the league with 93.3 points per game and 23rd in the league in FG% at 43.9. They are almost as bad of a rebounding team as the Raptors are (20th to Toronto’s 23rd ranking) and they don’t have the fastest bunch of guys on the floor. Keep in mind that in the past 5 games, the Bobcats have given up an average of 107 points per game, against the following competition: Wizards, Magic, Celtics, Heat and Bulls. Surely you would say, well, okay, the Magic and Bulls are big teams, right? Well, strangely enough, they held the Celtics to 96 points and lost by 1. They got flat out pasted by the Magic and then somehow, they got their asses served to them by the Bulls. When that happens, when THE BULLS run you for 111 points, that is what we call demoralizing.

Sum that all up and throw in the fact that subconsciously, they have to feel slightly insecure in their back-country high school uniforms and this should be a game the Raptors are able to handle.

Wallace and Richardson are doing their thing, leading the team in scoring. Raymond Felton is starting to round his game out a bit more, but you would like to see your PG shoot better than 78% from the free throw line and also cut down on the 3s seeing that he shoots 38% from there. The guy is probably also the slowest PG in the league, offensively and defensively.

Okafor is a beast defensively, but the guy just doesn’t have a big offensive game in my opinion. Felton doesn’t look to him down low and when you have a man that size as a PF and you’re not feeding him the ball on a regular basis, something is wrong. The talent you have outside of him (Wallace and Richardson) is good, but not good enough for him to be your third option. Okafor just isn’t aggressive enough offensively, when he should be using the “Power” part of his position’s title.

Even though Okafor is a presence on the inside, it is imperative that the Raptors do not forget about working inside. This cannot turn into another jump shot game for the Raptors, because they will be providing the Bobcats with an opportunity to stay in the game. Luckily, the Raptors don’t have to worry as much about getting back on transition D, but that still doesn’t mean that they can take it easy.

Bargnani needs to decide what kind of player he wants to be. The second year tells a lot about a guy, if he is able to adapt to the changes other teams have made against him, if he is able to take the pushes and shoves. Right now, I am starting to see too much hesitation and fear in his game. He needs to trust in his ability a bit more and diversify his game.

Alright, enjoy.

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The Butler Did It

Make no mistake, that was a completely winnable game last night. When I saw the Wiz wearing their 80’s Wales Conference jerseys, I thought it was an omen. I thought the Raptors were going to cruise to a win. So much for that.

Caron Butler…remember, we mentioned him? Said that nobody really talks about this guy enough? Yeah, well, maybe the Raptors hadn’t heard about him, because the guy didn’t have a hand in his face all night. You simply can’t give a guy with that kind of talent open looks all night. He is going to kill you. When the Raptors actually managed to close him out from the perimeter, he just put the ball on the ground and walked around for an easy layup. No support from the weak side, nobody sliding in to fill the lane. It’s bad enough when you have a guy like Roger Mason Jr. showing up all of a sudden, bitch-slapping you with every chance he gets, but it’s that much worse when a guy you know you should be covering is playing scrimmage out there.

Forget missed assignments (although there were plenty of those), but the Raptors just didn’t play smart defensively. There were far too many good looks for all of the Wizards out there. I don’t even know how the game stayed that close considering that the Wizards shot 56.6% from the field. Oh wait, I know…the game stayed close because the Wiz shot 61.9% from the line.

What is going on with Bargnani? The Wiz were going small the whole night and Bargs looked like he had a giant defending him. Even more embarrassing were the moments when Andray Blatche was on him, or when he was (inexplicably) double teamed, you could almost smell the fear/panic on him. 2-13? Adding to his shooting woes was that a good portion of those shots were forced, off balance and/or entirely missed the rim. I don’t think his injury could have been that much of a factor in his shooting problems. He looked completely miserable.

It is far too early to even be discussing this, but if Jamario Moon keeps logging 40+ minutes, showing that he is a vital part of the Raptors and keeps pulling down double-doubles, there is going to have to be some ROY consideration. 16 points, 13 rebounds and tons of energy. But here’s what I like too: 5 personal fouls. I know, you’re saying, “What? You like that he almost fouled out?”. Yeah, I do. He is active on defence, he isn’t going to give up a lot of easy baskets (well, occasionally he misses an assignment, but hey, he’s a rookie) and for a guy who isn’t built like a tight end, he plays remarkably tough.

It can now be made official that TJ Ford is NOT 100% out there. Ford does not look comfortable on either end of the court. When you see TJ hesitating on taking the ball to the rim, you know something’s not right. When you see him booting balls out of bounds on breakaways, you know he’s not 100%. That’s why I found it strange that when TJ was clearly pressing, trying to compensate, Sam let him stay in, struggling along. This is where Sam has to recognize that TJ isn’t sharp and needs to be eased back in. Given, he only played 13+ minutes, but it might be time to make sure TJ is really okay before they put him in there and he does some serious damage to whatever is ailing him.

Speaking of Sam, WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT COMING OUT OF THE FINAL TIMEOUT? Just when we might start to forget how bad Sam is at drawing up a play out of a timeout or how bad the Raptors are at executing plays out of a timeout, we get another prime example. The Raptors came out of their final timeout with 16 seconds left on the clock, ran around for 6 seconds like spiders sprayed with Windex and then Kapono hoisted a rushed 3 with a guy in his face. Clang! At least the ball ended up in Kapono’s hands, but did that really look like a play that was drawn up? What it looked like was a mess.

In what is becoming a recurring theme, we have to point out (again) that the Raptors do not work inside enough. The thing with jump shots is that they’re great when you’re hot, but when you’re not, when you miss, you are not fouled that often, so you have to count on getting a rebound. We all know how good the Raptors are at rebounding, so it is then even more important for them to work inside. Even if you miss, there is a good chance you are going to be fouled, giving you another chance to put points on the board, points that are going on without time coming off the clock. You also get the other team in foul trouble, which helps down the stretch. It’s not rocket science, it’s nothing new.

Anyway, would have been nice to keep things rolling, as the Raps will have (after the Bobcats…and let’s be honest, that’s no gimme anyway with the sketchy Raps) the Suns and the Celtics coming up, some real tests. It would be nice to have Bosh back for the Celts game. I would think that they will try to get him back for the Suns too, but I actually think the Raptors can run with the Suns without Bosh in the lineup. If the Raps have to go up against the Celtics without Bosh…well, not such a sunny disposition.

Raps vs. Wizards Preview

Well, I already had one wish come true this year concerning the Raptors and Wizards. I was hoping that Agent 0 wasn’t going to play. Miraculously, that has fallen into place. I am also hoping that the Wizards pull out those hideous 1980’s Wales Conference All-Star jerseys, just to inject a little pain with our pleasure. Man, those are supposed to be the jerseys that management came up with to generate additional revenue? Wow, fire your marketing department…all of them.

Anyway, back to the preview. When are people going to really, seriously, start talking about Caron Butler in the manner he deserves? Last year, he averaged 19.1 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists, over 2 steals, shot 86% from the line…and this year? 22.8 points, 3.3 assists, 7 rebounds, over 2 steals and almost 89% from the line. If those aren’t solid numbers, I don’t know what are. But here’s something to keep in mind. While he has the All-Star numbers, he also played over 44 minutes tonight (?!!!) in a loss to the Sixers. The Raptors might be able to capitalize on this.

Brendan Haywood should get more rebounds for a guy with his size and ability. Problem with him is that some games, he pouts. If he misses anything early, gets knocked a bit or doesn’t feel he is getting the touches he deserves, he shuts it down. Disappears. You don’t even notice him out there. You also can’t like a guy who shoots 63% from the line and considers that a marked improvement. Ouch. For a man of his size (7′0″, 263 lbs), he should play better defense, using that length to at least alter shots, but a lot of the time, it just looks like he doesn’t care. Attack him early and you’ll see some early foul trouble there.

So how tired are the Raptors going to be? Well, they weren’t really challenged all that much against the Cavs and it’s not like they have to travel that far, so they should be okay. I’m not exactly sure why Sam went with the short bench tonight, could have saved some minutes there, but I guess there is some logic to it (somewhere…).

If I’m Sam, I don’t bring Bosh back in this game. This is one where you might be able to afford having him out. The Wiz give up 103 points per game, with a perimeter D that is frightfully slow. Actually, everything on their D is slow, but their inability to get out on guys is astonishing. Teams shoot 37% from 3-point range against them, so as soon as the Raptors hear that in the locker room (please coaching staff, don’t tell them), it’s going to be raining 3s.

Enjoy the game.

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