Archive for January, 2008

Raps vs. Lakers Preview

Okay, in the Raps-Wiz post-game, I was telling you to start looking for the other three horsemen of the apocolypse…well, I found the second one. Kobe Bryant sharing the ball. It’s true. It’s happening and guess what? The Lakers are winning. I’m not one to use causal links very often, because you can damn well make yourself look like an idiot (and I don’t need a lot of help in that department on a daily basis), but when Kobe shares the ball, the Lakers tend to win more often.

But let’s not get too excited about Kobe passing the ball. With Bynum and Ariza down, watch Kobe’s shot totals go up. It hasn’t been strange to see Kobe taking more than twice as many shots as any of his teammates and we all know how he likes shooting the lights out in Toronto. But what is he going to do now that the losses are becoming a little more frequent? They have lost 3 out of their last 4 and they are heading into Detroit for a possible beat down on Thursday. Here’s hoping the Pistons wear those guys out, but don’t necessarily embarrass them. The last thing we need is Kobe coming across the border angry.

This should be an interesting game, but the Raptors had better hope it doesn’t end up close at the end of the 4th, because Kobe WILL take over. I have heard the question asked on 3 separate programs in the past few days (PTI, Celtics/Magic NBA Preview, Raps-Wiz tonight), where this choice has been given: Who would you rather have right now - Kobe or LeBron? So they get all into it, blah blah blah. But what you really want to ask is, when the game is on the line, who do you want with the ball? Kobe or LeBron. For me, it’s Kobe without hesitation. Been there too many times and proven himself too many times to even think of choosing LeBron.

Okay, should be a good one, let’s look for a good third quarter and limit the turnovers!

Sometimes Things Go Like They Should

After last night’s embarrassing performance, you would hope that the Raptors were going to come out and put one on the Wiz, but of course, the Raps weren’t able to do wha….hold on, sorry, force of habit. The Raptors actually came through with a solid win in a game they were supposed to win. Lock up the women and children, start looking for the other three horsemen, the world is coming to an end.

Going into the second quarter, it didn’t look like the Raptors were going to have an easy walk home in this one, but in the second they started to pull away and GOOD GOD, in the THIRD QUARTER the Raptors came out and played like a team that actually wanted to finish off their opponent. The Raptors were able to get a lot of good looks, which you can sum up to some good ball movement, but let’s also not forget that the Wiz played in that game last night too and when you’re missing some stars, I think it’s a little too much to ask for big wins in back to back nights when you have to travel too. It’s just not going to happen.

Random thoughts: Is that kid Blatche for real? How good did he look against the Raptors in two games? Can somebody get a couple of B-12 shots for that Pecherov kid? I swear he looked like he was two steps away from collapsing on the floor. Will the real Andrea Bargnani please stand up? Seriously, what’s the deal with our Dance Pak? (oh yeah, BTW, word is that some guy in my office is dating a Dance Pak member…will have to watch what I say…God knows I don’t need some dude in the office getting on me about the Dance Pak…although it would be highly entertaining…two guys arguing about the Dance Pak…maybe we could have a flex-off or something after).

Alright guys, honestly, I don’t have a whole lot to say about this game. It was what it was. It ended up how it should have ended up. That’s all.




Ugh…oh boy.

As soon as I heard that Caron Butler wasn’t going to be playing tonight, I said to myself, “Here comes the letdown.” It was almost guaranteed. I don’t know what it is with the Raptors, but as soon as they are facing a team that is missing at least one of their stars, they go into this sort of trance, letting passable NBA players suddenly look like stars on the court, slicing and dicing through the lane, untouched like the most street of street people.

Well, let’s take a look at a few of the things I said were going to be part of tonight’s game. Entertainment value? Check. The Raps and Wiz always deliver on that front. Wiz playing the Raptors tough? Check. Without Caron Butler (and Arenas) they still found a way to win. Wiz gritty when they need to be? Check. How many big offensive rebounds did they pick up in the fourth quarter and overtime? Did Eddie Jordan have his guys ready to go tonight? Check. But most importantly, did I not say that if the Raptors didn’t come out with energy and a game plan in the third quarter, they were going to get buried? CHECKITY MOFO CHECK! The Raptors essentially handed the game to the Wiz by coming out as dead as CBC primetime, unable to execute and looking utterly lost. It took the Raptors 4.5 minutes to finally score after the half and once again, I have to ask, WHAT THE HELL GOES ON IN THE RAPTORS LOCKER ROOM AT HALFTIME? Turnovers, fouls, missed shots, they looked like a team that just had the NBA rulebook passed to them at the break, like they hadn’t played the game before.

Note to Raptors: When you have to run your star player out there for 50 minutes against a team missing their two best players, you probably don’t deserve to win. Let’s hope Chris Bosh’s conditioning is up to par, because tomorrow is going to be no treat. Making the flight back, then having another game tomorrow after logging 50 HARD minutes tonight, it’s going to be tough. Chris is a professional and you never have to question if he brings it every night, but he shouldn’t be put in that position when the Raptors are presented with a situation like tonight. You never want to look at the schedule and say, “Well, tonight’s game is one we should win”, but tonight’s game was one of those ones where you could look at the starting lineup and say, “Well, tonight’s game is one we should win.”

Can somebody explain to me why Gatorade Graham is taking three shots in a row for the Raptors? After having two of those three shots blocked, Sam had to put him back on the bench. The one good thing GG did was set a brick wall of a pick. Now, if he could concentrate on using his size in those kind of instances, along with some rebounding and some D, on a consistent basis, he cou…ah hell, who am I kidding? That’s never going to happen.

Okay, so now on to a few good things. I REALLY liked how Bosh welcomed Antonio Daniels to the HARDcourt at the end of the third quarter. If there was one good thing the Raptors can take out of that third quarter, it was that Bosh was man enough to not let Daniels walk in for another Wiz uncontested layup. Somehow, Bosh channeled his inner Oakley and said, “Oh HELL NO” and slapped Daniels like he was paying him by the hour. It wasn’t dirty, it was just hard basketball. That is the kind of thing the Raptors need some more of. I think there was a little pride intertwined in that foul. That’s good to see.

You also have to like the fact that the Raptors didn’t quit on the game, even though it looked like it was pretty much dead. Tell me you didn’t have a feeling they were going to hit a 3 at the end of the game, just because it was against the Wiz. I was hoping TSN would cut to a shot of Eddie Jordan, because my favourite thing about the shot MoPete hit last year was seeing Jordan’s face, where he just had that “I can’t believe that just happened” smile on his face. I’m guessing he had that again tonight.

Anyway, the Raptors need to come out tomorrow night and put a hurt on the Wizards, have a little pride on their own home court. This isn’t a must win game, but it’s one of those games that they need to win to tell other teams that they aren’t chumps. You can’t follow up a big win against the Celtics, then punish the Bucks and come out and lay that egg. Nope.




Raps vs. Wizards Preview

While Toronto fans are moaning and groaning about Bosh and Calderon not being All-Stars, the Wizards have some legit beefs too. I’m talking about Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison. The dynamic duo, lightning and thunder, Tough Juice and AJ, Axe and Smash…well, maybe not the last one, but these two guys have shown that maybe this team doesn’t need Agent 0 around at all. Now, when a big time player gets injured and a team picks it up, you always hear that they are playing better team ball, that there is better ball movement, etc. I don’t really think that is so much the case with the Wizards. I just think that without Arenas in the lineup, it has allowed Jamison and Butler the opportunity to show the amount of talent they really have, creating opportunities when there appear to be none, making tough plays when there are tough plays to be made. Take a look at the numbers these two guys are putting up:

Butler: 21.9 ppg, 7 rpg, 4.3 ast, +24.07, 91.5 FT%…sound like All-Star material to you? The only other guys with numbers like that are LeBron and Kobe. Well, if you are still on the fence, take a look back at what he did to the Celtics in those back to back games, pretty much taking things over in the final 6 minutes, dominating the game, no matter who they put out to cover him.

Jamison: 21.3 ppg, 10.4 rpg, +22.05 and he’ll log you almost 40 minutes per game. I’m sorry, but those sound like All-Star numbers to me too. There’s only one other guy in the East with numbers like that…the ManChild, Dwight Howard.

The Wiz always play the Raptors tough. I’m not sure what it is, but these games always end up as very entertaining engagements. The fact that they are playing a back-to-back will only help to bolster the atmosphere, especially if there are any shenanigans in the first game. I think Eddie Jordan is one of the more underappreciated coaches in the league. He always has his team ready to play and they are tough. You can’t push the Wiz around, which is why the Raptors are going to have to make sure they have some outside mustard working, because we all know what happens to the Raptors when somebody plays them tough. The thing is, the Wizards aren’t really that big, they’re not a bunch of Dwight Howards out there, but they’re just gritty when they have to be.

Another guy not getting enough credit? Antonio Daniels. The guy has been around for a while, but he just keeps going. He’s logging his 30+ minutes, picks up 8 or so points, drops 5 or so dimes, but the most important thing is that he seems to be a calming influence on the Wiz. Whenever they seem to get a little careless with the ball or when they get off their game, Daniels slows it down and gets them back into rhythm. It will be interesting to see how he fares against the Raptors.

Roger Mason Jr. will not have another one of those games.

Anyway, the Raptors are going to have to come out ready for this one. Once again, it will be important for them to come out in the third quarter with a game plan and some energy, because if Antawn and Caron smell blood in the water, look out. This might be another game tailor made for Barogi, because while he isn’t always so ready to attack the basket, he has been doing it more frequently and if he can get some inside work and then start stroking that shot, it will open things up for Bosh a bit more. Think of Barogi as a can opener. He’s vital to the whole process, but really, you just need him to perform his function in order to get to all of the good stuff. He does his thing and the rest of the guys will do theirs.

Enjoy the game.




Statements and Exclamations

The win over the Celtics the other night was an important win for a variety of reasons, but none more than the Raptors making a statement to themselves that they belong as a legit contender in the East, that they do have the tools to pull out some wins against the best teams. But as I mentioned in the post-game, it would all mean nothing if they weren’t able to come up with a win against the Bucks last night.

So while people will say that the Raptors had a statement game against the Celtics, the real statement was made against the Bucks. By coming out and wiping the floor with the Bucks, the Raptors just reinforced that their game against the Celtics was no fluke. But the great thing for the Raptors is that they made more than one statement by hammering the Bucks. This was a close game at the half, with the Raptors only ahead by 5 points. The Raptors then came out and broke the game open in the third quarter, which is a problem I had talked about a few posts ago. By coming out in the third quarter and outscoring the Bucks 32-11, the Raptors made the statement that they are able to come out and bury teams they are supposed to bury, when they are supposed to bury them. It may be easy to overlook the fact that the game was really won in the third quarter, but when you take a look at the Raptors and their lack of energy, game plan and enthusiasm in most games in the third quarter, last night was definitely a statement.

The Raptors also made a statement by outrebounding the Bucks. Sure, they didn’t beat them on the offensive boards, but at least they were active defensively, limiting the Bucks on second chance points and controlling their own end. The Bucks are not a good rebounding team, but neither are the Raptors. They are actually right beside each other in 25th (Raptors) and 26th place, but by coming out and controlling the defensive end, the Raptors were able to make the statement that they are starting to work on various parts of their game…parts that can make them a little more dangerous down the stretch.

The Raptors were helped out by some Bucks shot selection that can only be called curious. 3-23 from behind the arc. 3-23?!!! Dear Mr. Redd: We know, shooters shoot, but 5-14 with 1-7 from behind the arc? You also went 1-2 from the charity stripe and managed an amazing 0 assists. Dude, share the ball. When you are dead cold, get your teammates some looks and you will actually be working yourself into the game, where you may open things up so you get some better looks. As a team, the Bucks just didn’t look like they had much of a game plan tonight and maybe they bought into some of the hype surrounding Raptors the win over the Celtics the other night (a team that almost lost to the Wolves tonight…a 1 point victory at home against the Wolves? I’m telling ya, Detroit is the beast in the east, not Boston).

Just as we started to enjoy the Baryogi nickname, Andrea starts making us look good by finding his game again. Could it be that somebody hooked him up with that slump-buster? Maybe…but I am going to say that when you go into a game against a team like the Celtics and you have been having a rough year, nobody expects anything from you, so you are able to relax and just play ball. So after you have a night like that, you start to think, “Hey, not bad…still got it.” Then when you come into a game against a team like the Bucks, you are just following up on what happened in the previous game. There are two things that I am liking about Andrea’s game right now. 1) He is not hesitating to attack. He has sorted out that dragged pivot foot problem and is now putting the ball on the floor and looking to get inside; 2) He is getting on the boards. He picked up another 7 rebounds against the Bucks, showing that he isn’t afraid to get in there when he has to.

Anyway, nice that the Raptors were able to put an exclamation point on the win over the Celtics by following it up against the Bucks. That’s what you have to do to move up in the standings. Win the games you are supposed to.




Brolleys and Follies

Okay, it’s great for the Raptors to get a win, a divisional win, a win against the Celtics, but let’s not get too excited about this one. There were a lot of good things tonight and a lot of bad things, but we finally saw a bit of guts from the Raptors, hanging around long enough to win.

When you shoot 71.4% from 3-point range and 100% from the line, you should pretty much win almost every game you play. I say that, because if you are scoring at that kind of a clip, you’re picking up the extra point on the 3s and you are also picking up points with the clock stopped. That leaves the rest of your old-school game to generate points and even if you have a mediocre night, you should still be scoring at least 90 points. The thing I liked about the 3s that were raining down in Boston was that the Raptors weren’t throwing them up as desperation 3s and most of them came on very good looks. Credit that to some good ball movement, including about 4 no-look perimeter passes I saw from Bargs (can’t call him Baryogi tonight, he stayed out of foul trouble). When you get the ball moving that quickly around the perimeter, you are going to get some good looks and at worst, you are going to have a defender on that last pass running out to try to cover the three, whereupon you can put the ball on the floor and attack the basket. The Raptors did both tonight and it paid off.

Speaking of Bargnani, tonight’s game was what I was talking about in the preview. When Andrea is able to get that shot going, he creates room for Bosh and spreads the floor a bit more, creating more opportunities for his teammates. The shot didn’t look completely smooth, he did rattle a lot of those shots home, but I like that he actually looked confident tonight, with no hesitation, but at the same time, he wasn’t rushing or forcing shots. He also remarkably showed up on the boards, picking up 7 (although let’s be honest, a lot of those were with nobody around…but hey, I’ll give him some cred). The truth about the Raptors is that when Andrea plays well, he makes them that much more of a dangerous team. Let’s not discount his role in last year’s success. Let’s hope that he is starting to learn to adjust to the different defences teams are throwing at him and that he is learning as much about them as they did about him. The NBA is all about making adjustments.

Since AP has found his game again, the Raptors have looked that much more threatening. When AP gets that shot going from the corner, he owns it. He will shoot it open, with a hand in his face, he doesn’t care. That corner is more automatic that MoPete back in the day when he used to get cooking from his corner office. You could see down the stretch that the Celtics just couldn’t get out on him fast enough and he took every opportunity that was presented.

So in the preview, I was talking about how if the Raptors could just hang around long enough, I thought they would be able to outlast the Celtics, because outside of Garnett, I don’t think they are very well conditioned. Did you see Perkins sucking flies in the 4th quarter? That guy looked like he just came in from the Boston Marathon and decided to put on a Celtics jersey. Yikes. Being in good shape and being ready to play is more important than it gets credit for. You can be the most skilled athlete in the league, but if your legs are tired in the 4th quarter, it isn’t going to matter. The Wiz counted on star players and being in better shape than the Celtics, could it be that the Raptors took notes?

So on to the follies. Which I have to say is the home cookin’ that is going on at the TD Banknorth Garden. There was some very suspicious refereeing going on tonight. I am seriously not one to ever bring up the refs, but does Garnett have to bring out a paddle to get a foul called on him? I also saw a lot of slapping going on that wasn’t called. I’m all for letting the guys play, for letting the players decide things on the court and I don’t even mind the odd home call every once in a while, because that’s part of the home court advantage. Also, was it just me or were those some noisy rims? Was it the positioning of the mic at the Garden? Cuz those guys sounded like they were playing at The Humberview School (if you ever played a game there back in the early 90s, you’ll know what I’m talking about…I think some dude made those things in his backyard or in shop class).

Additional follies? Turnovers. 18 turnovers. That’s not good basketball. When you play good teams, hell, when you play any team, that is a recipe for disaster. If you don’t have a great night shooting from outside, those turnovers turn into unanswered points the other way. The Raptors have to count themselves lucky tonight, because while they got the win, those turnovers could have killed them.

So while the Raptors came out of this with a win, the whole thing will be wasted if they are not able to follow this win up with another. As good as wins over big teams are, a big win followed by a poor loss is the exact opposite…and maybe even worse. As AP so eloquently stated in his post game interview, the Raptors are capable of beating any team on any night, but they are also capable of losing to any team on any night and they have shown that more than enough times.

As a final note, you have to love Jose attacking the basket with the clock running down, sinking the layup +1. Did that remind you of another PG the Raptors are missing right now? That’s what playing tough in the final seconds is about. Don’t settle for that jumper, get in there and get dirty.




Jamario Moon: 33

jamario.jpg

When news broke that Jamario Moon would be participating in this year’s All Star slam dunk contest, Raptors and NBA fans alike were all heard saying the same thing - “Finally!” As much as Toronto fans are quick to denounce Vince Carter’s relevance and what he brought to the basketball domain in Canada, no one can doubt that he absolutely owned the slam dunk competition. For the unfortunate few who competed in the same event in the following years, none could ever electrify the stadium as Carter did, and the excitement of the slam dunk contest plummeted to a point where it could not even match that of the skills competition.

This year’s contest proves to be an event worth watching, not just because Jamario has the ability and athleticism to win the competition, but because he deserves it more than anyone else. NBA fans are only beginning to learn the hardships and the long road that has led Moon to his starting role today, and the more you know of him, the more you appreciate who he has become.

All bets are on Jamario to take the crown this year. Gerald Green had his chance to prove himself last year, and although he is the champion, he’ll be hard pressed to come up with more creative dunks this year. Rudy Gay oozes talent, but lacks the technical skills to wow the judges, and the only way Dwight Howard is going to win is if he actually snaps the rim off the backboard.

If there is one thing to look forward to when Moon raises that trophy in the air, it’s that it will signify that he has arrived. For all the blood, sweat, and tears, he will have emerged from the depths of the shadows of mediocrity and find himself in the spotlight of the greatest NBA event of the year. And for that, we can all agree that there is a big bad Moon rising.




Raps vs. Celtics Preview

At this point, what do you really say with the Raptors going up against the Celtics? You want them to take the ball inside, but you know that Bosh has suddenly become KG’s bitch, shying away from the lane like Oprah does a stairmaster. KG’s wingspan is a deterrent, there’s no doubt about that. His attitude toward playing solid D has also helped the rest of his team, as they have bought into what he is selling. A lot of different reports like to credit Doc Rivers with bringing the defensive attitude to the Celtics, but hey, Doc has been there a while and there hasn’t been anything close to this on the defensive end. The only D the Celtics have been bringing to the NBA the past few years is providing their opposition with an opportunity to have a stellar defensive night.

The spot where the Raptors can take some inspiration is from those back to back losses to the Wiz. Those were two quality wins from a team that is missing their (supposed) best player in Gilbert Arenas. So how did the Wizards manage to beat the Celtics in back to back games? Well, there are a lot of theories, but the one I am putting out there is that they just hung around and relied on their stars to make star plays in the 4th quarter. You see, here’s the thing with the Celtics. They run the Big 3 (or GAP as they are also known) out there between 35-38 minutes per game, which really isn’t that unusual. But when you get down to the 4th quarter, I’m going to start questioning the conditioning and focus of Pierce and Allen. You know that KG is going to bring it all game, but you can outhustle the rest of that team. If the Raptors are able to hang around long enough, they can try to outwork the Pistons for those last points…and this time, the Raptors won’t have any “we’re tired” excuses to use.

Since those back to back losses to Washington, the Celtics have turned the lights back on and won 3 straight, capped by a win over the Knicks on Monday night. It seems they have gotten things back into gear just in time to slap a dirty one on the Raptors, but I have a different feeling about this game. I think that the wins by the Wizards have allowed the Raptors to see that this team is not unbeatable. The Raptors do not seem to be the most mentally tough team, so maybe having the Wiz set an example for them could provide some inspiration. You can’t win until you start thinking you can win.

So who’s the X-Factor in this game? Bargnani. Yep, White Yogi himself. He needs to stay out of foul trouble and have a solid game for the Raptors to keep things close. When White Yogi is on, he is able to help stretch the floor and he takes some of the pressure off of Bosh as they have to respect Gino that much more. He is also the kind of player who when his shot is on, can prove to be a deadly weapon in the 4th quarter. Problem is, when was the last time we saw him with his shot on? When was the last time we saw him in the 4th quarter? The part that worries me is that White Yogi (and I WILL keep calling him that until he gets his foul trouble sorted out) will be in tough trying to keep his arms to himself. The Celtics can score and they can do it by attacking, so if Gino isn’t moving his feet, it could be another White Yogi night.

Anyway, I’ve been jonesing for some Raps, feels like they haven’t played in a week! Looking forward to this. Enjoy the game.




Clockwork

So, in the Joy and Pain post, I was talking about how the Raptors have made coming out flat in the 3rd quarter into an art form. I wanted to find out exactly what goes on in the Raptors locker room at half time (well, other than Jose passing out Gatorade, which is some sort of trend from what I hear…hey Jose, can’t you get a rookie or maybe even Bargs to do that? At least it would make Bargs useful). So tonight, once again, I ask, “What the hell went on in the Raptors locker room at half time?” Why is it that the Raptors come out and continually get their asses kicked in the 3rd quarter? One might say that the tide started turning at the end of the 2nd quarter, ending with the Raptors going into the room down, but that’s the point. They had half time to get things back in order. They could sit down and say, “Here’s what went wrong at the end of the 2nd and how we need to lock down on these things. Here is how we are going to come out in the 3rd quarter.” Obviously, it wouldn’t be as simple of a conversation as that, but you get where I am coming from. There has to be some planning that goes on at half time, that’s the whole point of it. If half time wasn’t meant for teams to do a quick self-assessment, the break would be the same length as between quarters.

The problem with having a dreadful 3rd quarter is that it just doesn’t leave you a lot of time to mount a comeback. The Raptors almost pulled it off tonight, but what they really needed was another 4 minutes. If you are going to have a bad quarter, you had better make it the 2nd. You don’t want it to be the first, because you hate to get off to a bad start, it’s just demoralizing and it helps boost the other team’s morale. The 3rd quarter doesn’t leave you enough time to come back and the 4th quarter just ends the game for you. Even if you are able to mount a comeback, you can’t expect to keep doing it on a consistent basis, even if you are playing the worst team in the league. Teams are not going to blow leads every night, because it really takes two teams to work that out. You have to have a team playing bad defence and not being able to generate any offense and you have to have the other team scoring consistently and making a few stops in their own end. A comeback is a semi-complex equation (you can use that).

Carlos Delfino is a strange cat. I don’t know if I have ever seen a player so hot-cold in my life. He can just get into one of those zones where he is hitting everything and playing solid D, but then he can come out the next game and just look like he isn’t into it. By no means do I think he is a guy who mails it in some nights, I think he is a player who brings everything he has every night, but you can just see those games where for whatever reason, he just isn’t into the game. Tonight was one of those cases. He was 0-2 in 22 minutes and the fact that he only took 2 shots in that amount of time suggests that something wasn’t right, not only in his mind, but in the Raptors offence. Sure, sometimes he gets a little shot happy, but at the same time, for him to be effective, he needs to be shooting a little more than that.

You know why Gatorade Graham is so frustrating? Because he has games like tonight. Every time you think, “Man, we’ve gotta get Gatorade Graham out of here, even if it just for a new rack of balls”, he comes out and has a great game. 3-4 from the floor, 7-8 from the line and a couple of rebounds for 13 points in 16 minutes. He also managed to actually play a little bit of tough D. This is the kind of player he should be, the kind of player the Raptors thought he was going to be when they drafted him. I’m not saying that anybody figured he would be scoring at a pace of almost a point a minute, but if you were getting 10 points per game and 5 rebounds from him, I think everybody would be happy. Maybe the Raptors should see if they can get a group rate on a sports psychologist, throw Gatorade Graham and Gino in there and hope for the best.

Something I really hate hearing from commentators and other analysts is when they say how the Raptors were playing their fourth game in five nights and how fatigue caught up to them in the third quarter. Bullshit. You should be able to come out and play a solid game even if you are playing 4 games in 4 nights. The Sixers were playing their fourth game in six nights and it didn’t look like they were tired. If you want to use that excuse for losing a game, then how do you explain the Raptors being able to almost mount a comeback at the end of the game, one where they scored 39 points in the 4th quarter? It’s a lame excuse. If you are a pro athlete, sorry, if you are a pro franchise and are not able to play 4 games in 5 nights without having to hide behind a nancy-boy excuse like, “Oh, sorry for our performance, we were tired”, then you need to just spend the off-season on conditioning. Forget working on your shot, no exercise on footwork, just you, a pair of Saucony’s and 15K per day. Put on some headphones, maybe something inspirational, maybe something that tells you about how to grow some balls, maybe some damn Barry Manilow, but don’t give me that excuse about being tired. Listen up guys: Everybody in the world who has a job is tired.

Anyway, the Raptors will have a few days off to get prepared for the Celtics. They won’t be able to lay back on that tired excuse again, so we’ll have to wait and see what’s next. Sam better have these guys ready to go.




Joy and Pain

Sorry, but I am going to keep going with this old school motif for a little bit. Tonight’s game against the Hawks was one of those ones where there were a lot of things to like, but man, there were also a lot of things to dislike. A lot of joy and pain (in case you really needed me to tie that back to the title). So just because I feel like it, I am going to break things down in a good/bad, joy/pain format…

Joy

Watching Jamario Moon play defense. He does miss a few more assignments than anybody wants to notice (commentators and others in the know talk about him like he’s a big time lock down defender and he’s not…yet), but he hustles. There have been many times this season where we have seen either Jamario or one of his teammates miss on the offensive end, only to see Jamario hustle and break up what looks like 2 the other way. He did it again tonight. Coach started talking about him playing DB for the Chargers this weekend and sure, that was a little over the top, it’s not like he was in a dead sprint back there, but the fact is that he is hustling back on D and you can’t say that about many guys in the league. You also have to like that he just keeps going after the block, whether it is on the perimeter or coming through the lane. Jamario doesn’t care if he gets dunked on, because getting dunked on in the NBA is better than being a star in the D-League or the CBL or (enter alphabet league here).

Pain

Andrea Bargnani’s starts to games. Here are what I think the two biggest problems are with Andrea right now. 1) His mental preparation for games. As I have mentioned a few times before, I don’t think there is anything in his stroke or his fitness that is different from last year. I don’t think his training in the offseason has affected his play. I think that he is thinking so much about taking the right shot or getting a good look or not airing it out, he isn’t letting his natural muscle memory kick into effect and take over. He isn’t allowing his natural ability to work because he is just overthinking the game. Part of me was joking before when I said that he needed a slump buster, but part of me wasn’t joking. The great thing about something like that (er…so I’ve heard) is that it becomes a big joke, you laugh at yourself, your teammates get on you about it and before you know it, you are enjoying being out on the court again. You stop thinking about how to play the game and just start thinking about playing the game. There’s a big difference. 2) His foul trouble. He is having some serious problems getting out of the first 5-7 minutes of games not in foul trouble. He would make Yogi proud right now. Once you pick up two quick fouls, you are going to see some bench. When you pick up 3 quick fouls? You are going to become part of the bench. People are going to accidentally sit on you because they think you are part of the bench. Andrea has to use his body better, finding better position on guys on realizing that when he has been beaten by a move, it does absolutely no good to reach in to try to strip the ball. When you’re that big, you’re not going to have hands fast enough to do it and even if you do, you’re not going to get the call anyway. If your teammates are quick enough, they will slide over to help. He is a player who is going to need some help on the defensive end, because right now, it’s nothing but pain.

Sunshine
Chris Bosh adding some variety. It shouldn’t be a big surprise that since Chris Bosh has been attacking the basket more and working closer to the rim, he has been able to dominate more. All it took was Sam getting on him for a while, but hell, if Bosh had been reading RF for the past year, he would have been playing like this for well, a year now. Come on Chris, we know what we’re talking about man! But even more important than Bosh attacking the basket has been his quick decision making. When Bosh is getting the ball in the low post, he is not taking his customary 5 seconds to take action. He has cut that down to about 2 seconds, whereupon he attacks with a two-step mini-hook, a direct pivot and attack or a nice little fadeaway jumper that he has developed. When you’re a defender trying to cover those options and also have to keep in mind that he can hit you with some long jumpers, you realize that you have a serious situation on your hands. As long as Bosh remembers to stay active and keeps up his quick decision making, he will see more and more success.

Rain
More than almost anything in the world, I would like to sit in the Raptors locker room at halftime to listen to what the hell Sam is telling them at the break, because man, they have turned coming out flat in the 3rd quarter into an art form. It’s almost like a Pro-Line commercial. Team goes into the locker room playing decent ball, coach gives them some sort of “Four score and forty years ago” speech and the team instantly comes out flat and nearly throws away the game. Guy up in the reds shouts, “Wooooooohoooooo!” What is going on at halftime? Isn’t that when teams are supposed to be making adjustments for the positive? Flat, flat, flat! Coach and Chuck were talking about how Atlanta really came out guns blazing to start the 3rd, but a lot of that can be directly attributed to the poor shot selection and absolutely vacuous defense the Raptors were displaying. The Raptors came out in the third with a Bargnani jumper (missed), a shot clock violation and four more missed jump shots before they remembered Chris Bosh has been having some success recently attacking the basket. On the other side of the ball, Atlanta came out with some layups, mini-hooks, some free throws, a dunk…strong interior basketball. That just can’t happen, especially in your own house. That just cannot happen.

For some additional rain…can we one time, JUST ONE TIME, have somebody on this team, stand up for his teammate? Just once? Can we sign Matt Bonner for a game to come in and put somebody on their ass when they go after our point guards? Jose takes an elbow to the head (and goes down two seconds later in true soccer fashion) and it’s almost like the Raptors thought it was a natural part of the game. True, it was not the easiest thing to see if you were on the court, but certainly, somebody had to have seen what happened and if not, you could gather what happened by the fact that your teammate was holding his head and looking back at a guy. We’ve said it a million times before, but would a Raptors team with Oakley have ever stood for that? Do you think the Bad Boy Pistons from back in the day would have stood for that? ESPECIALLY AFTER THEY HAVE ALREADY TAKEN OUT YOUR OTHER POINT GUARD? The Raptors just reinforced tonight that they have no balls. None. I’m not asking for a brawl or anything, just for a message to be sent. Even Jalen Rose was good for that.

Anyway, handshakes for Bosh and Jose, strong games from both of them and some clutch shooting from AP. It looks like he is finally rounding into form again, finally over his annual slow start to the season (although this year has been slower than others). Nice to see the Raptors sharing the ball a lot right now too, but they really have to get this whole situation with Andrea sorted. He’s thinking way too much.




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