As the Raptors come to the end of the regular season, yes, we can assume that Sam is a genius. The Raptors managed to work themselves into a first round matchup with the Magic, which is the best they could hope for considering the other company at the top of the conference. While the Raptors should be happy that they are facing the Magic in the first round and not the Pistons or Cavs, by no means should they be taking the Magic lightly. The Magic did after all take 2 of 3 from the Raptors this season. I’m not a big fan of hearing that the Raptors were cheering once the 76ers lost, solidifying the playoff bracket. Either way, you have to be a professional and get ready to play.
Speaking of being a professional, Sam should be completely unprofessional and rest his bigs as much as possible in tonight’s game. He has said that he is going to mix everyone in to get some action, but let’s hope for God’s sake that he does more mixing of Hump and Primo into the lineup than anybody else. With the Raptors’ luck, we will put Bosh in for 10 minutes and he will end up blowing his knee out. I don’t care about that whole “integrity of the game” business when people talk about playing hard in the final game of the season when everything is set. Save the playing hard for the playoffs. Hell, put D-Mart back in a uni and let him run the show. Close the season with a banquet at Big Boy and he’s a happy man.
So what went right and what went wrong for the Raptors in the regular season? Well, where to start. Bosh’s injury problems started in the preseason and effectively continued throughout the regular season. Different injuries, nothing extremely serious, but just nagging injuries that wouldn’t go away. Last season, the Raptors showed that they could find ways to win without Bosh in the lineup, but this year, they were not able to find the same results without him in the lineup. The Raptors looked lost, not being able to find a real flow and exposing themselves as a team that works off that high-low first and then looks for other options. Hopefully the Raptors have had him back in the lineup long enough to try to diversify their game a little bit. The Magic will not play the Raptors exactly how they did in the regular season, so they will need to find other options than Bosh.
Andrea Bargnani had about as difficult of a sophomore season as you could expect. He started great, looking like he had added some new wrinkles into his game, but as the season progressed, we saw Andrea lose confidence and put pressure on himself. He eventually got himself out of that horrible rut he was in around the middle of the season, but he was never close to the Andrea we saw last season. That could be a combination of him not being able to sneak up on any teams anymore, but it is also a mental issue that he will need to work on in the summer. Before that, Andrea will need to work off his strengths in the playoffs. There will be room for him to shoot and if the Raptors can get him a few good looks early in games, he could turn things on just in time.
TJ’s injury was bad and good for the Raptors. On the bad side, it was a serious injury that almost ended TJ’s career. It also put TJ in a situation where he had to watch another PG come in and play extremely well, creating a pressure situation in the game’s most important position. When TJ came back, it was obvious that he was pressing, a guy who was always used his ego as a way to complement his game finding that his ego had been hurt, which was in turn, affecting his game. The good part of his injury (it sounds bad, but you know what I mean) is that we saw the emergence of Jose Calderon. Jose showed that he can run the team in an efficient manner and displayed good leadership that the Raptors needed. By going back to the bench so TJ could start, Jose showed some class, but also showed that he is a bit soft. It looks like the complete team player move, but I would have liked to see Jose try to stay in the position for a while longer. Either way, if the Raptors can keep the 1-2 punch firing going into the playoffs, it could create defensive problems for the Magic.
Sam Mitchell was exposed this season. The smoke and mirrors that were last season were removed this year as we saw Sam continually outcoached, with the Raptors unable to hold leads, run dead ball plays and defend in the crunch. We have to give credit that the Raptors did have some good defence this year, but there were far too many defensive lapses at key moments in games that led to losses. Heading into the playoffs, the Raptors can ill afford those same lapses, as one mistake could cost you a game…and that could have you one step closer to the golf season.
If the Raptors are able to keep Dwight Howard away from the basket, success will be a lot easier. Problem is, that is easier said than done. Dwight Howard is a MAN. It will take a lot of strength from guys like Rasho to keep pushing Howard away from the basket, because we have seen his game, it is essentially dunk, dunk, dunk. His game is progressing, but not to the point that you have to start worrying about him making Divac-like passes to slashers from 8 feet out. He has worked on that mini-hook, but if the Raptors only have to worry about Howard taking mini-hooks, I bet they’ll take that in a second.
So if you have any chores to do tonight, get them done, skip the game. Make sure that you have your weekend open, take the wife or girlfriend out before the playoffs start so that there’s no complaining (or even talking) during the playoffs. If you don’t go out, you’d better not come home empty handed. Check in tomorrow night and you might just see some tips on things to do/things to buy in order to keep your household a happy playoff household.