Archive for April, 2008

Post-Seasons Reasons

So. Is there any reason to believe in this team (outside of the local impulse to scream about how awesome it is that the Raps are in the playoffs again) will make a mark beyond a trace come this weekend? It seems sour. Bittersweet I guess, but outside of the so-so play in November and December, we haven’t been able to put together a run at all this season, so for many reasons it would appear that this team is locked in for a first round exit. With more downs than ups, and last night’s first half of ugliness against the tepid, it smells like Toronto’s fate is out of their hands. After all, to win against these guys is usually determined by the quality of their opponent. Jack made the point last night that winning teams make winning a part of their everyday habit. From the way they compose themselves on the court, to the post-game wrap-ups, they’re habit is walking and talking like a winner. For this to be a habit, obviously, you gotta start chalking up more W’s than L’s, but is there some kind of initial impulse that precedes the actual way a winning team wins? A culture of success?

Some have argued that Colangelo has come in and done that. He has comparatively when stacked against the likes of Babcock, Grunwald, and Zeke. But last year is looking more and more like an aberration. A year where they caught some people by surprise and guys had career years. Things have leveled off in some areas, while others have declined. This team still can’t manufacture stops on the defensive end on a consistent basis (The Tepid shot over 50% in the first half last night). This isn’t news. Though statistically they’re better defensively this year, the past two months have seen some pretty awful efforts to stop the opposition. What’s news is the steady decline of the Raptors ability to “make shats.” There’s theories abounding as to how and why the best three point shooting team in the league percentage wise has been taking less of them. The fact that the deadliest three point shooter in league history (percentage wise) not only made one, but also took one for the first time in a month yesterday is troublesome. There are guys in shooting slumps to be sure. Bargs is one for his last 17 behind the ark, and Delfino, well he’s a walking/talking heat check. But the guy you want taking maybe 5-7 threes a game in Kapono, not being able to get one off can’t simply be because he isn’t looking for his shot. Colangelo made the point that in Kapono’s case, his decline in play this season has been because of coaching. To elaborate, its this team’s lack of offensive cohesiveness and execution to be able to consistently get Kapono that kind of looks he’ll bury 60% of the time.

Whether this is due to personnel or coaching at this point is less significant than the timing of this executional conundrum. Finding answers this late in the season gives reason to think that this post-season is going to be as short-lived as last years. Pistons rookie Rodney Stuckey hit it on the head when he said during the playoffs, “You’re locking in on one team and everybody knows what each other’s going to do.” The problem here in the context of the Raps is that they’re entirely unsure of what “each other’s going to do.” Their more down than up play doesn’t leave them with a lot of room to establish Jack’s winning habit. Bosh et al are trying to sell this to the fans as a long season of ups and downs that every team goes through, which is light years away from what winning teams actually do. That said, maybe they get lucky, get hot, and snap out of whatever funk they’re in and take it to the Magic. There’s a ton of reasons to suggest otherwise, but in the end all you need is one for the contrary.

This blog entry courtesy of ClingRap.

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Back for Seconds, Thirds and Fourths

Some things don’t happen very often. Total eclipses, Haley’s comet, a Knicks win. So that’s why when something extraordinary happens, you have to take notice. Tonight, the Raptors stepped up and played a solid game, playing like a team that just wanted it more than the other team they were playing. But that’s not the part that was so abnormal. No, that came as the Raptors got their asses served to them in the first quarter, but then MADE DEFENSIVE ADJUSTMENTS that actually worked, resulting in a complete shut down of the Nets.

The Nets were simply being more aggressive than the Raptors in the first quarter, attacking the basket and using their athleticism to create scoring opportunities. It didn’t look like the Raptors were going to have any sort of plan to stop the Nets and to be honest, it didn’t look like they were completely into the game. As much as we often wonder what was said at halftime that leads to the Raptors coming out and stinking up the joint in the third quarter, tonight was the complete opposite. After the first quarter, you could see the Raptors staying back a step and a half, tempting the Nets to take the outside jumper, in essence, playing themselves out of the game. Once those outside shots started missing, you could see the frustration setting in and sure enough, Richard Jefferson disappeared like he typically does when he misses a few or doesn’t take off right at the start of the game.

Was it just me or were there a lot of touch fouls tonight? Wow. Some of them were almost Jordanesque.

Good to see the TJ/Jose combo working well again and it was also good to see that while Devin Harris burned TJ a couple of times by putting the ball on the floor, TJ didn’t come right back trying to prove a point. He just came back down the court and found a way to create a shot for his teammates. That’s a good sign of maturity, which is something TJ has lacked at points during this season.

It was good to see Carlos Delfino making some shots again, but you have to wonder what is going on with Jason Kapono. In one of the threads on our message board, I was talking about how Kapono hasn’t really been doing any work to create shots for himself, meaning that he hasn’t been moving in order to get good looks. Nobody thinks he is a Rip Hamilton out there, running a marathon every time down the court in order to get a shot off, but when you are a shooter, play 17 minutes and get off 1 shot, you have to wonder what the hell is going on. If plays are not being run specifically for him out there (and if plays were actually being run by the Raptors, Kapono would probably be a bit down the list), but if they aren’t, then he has to create some openings so the Raps can actually get a pass to him where he can square up and let’er rip.

So speaking of Rip Hamilton, the Raptors head into Detroit on Sunday for a mid-day affair that will not be easy. Hopefully some of the lessons learned tonight carry over to their next game.

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Raps vs. Nets Preview

There have been so many games this year that were considered “statement games” that the term lost its importance realtively early. When you have to make so many statements, you either aren’t speaking the language properly or your talking has required you to do more talking. The Raptors didn’t look like anything special against the Bucks the other night and I wouldn’t consider that a game that speaks to the team being ready to head into the playoffs. Would a win against the Nets make any more of a statement? Well, it all depends on what kind of a win we are talking about.

Remember, we have seen a few different Nets teams this season. We have seen a Nets team that has had its ass handed to it, but we have also seen a Nets team that has just outhustled the Raptors. When you have Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson outhustling you on any given night, you have to take a serious look in the mirror. You have to wonder if there is a worse pair of quitters in the NBA, two other guys who simply disappear in games where they are either bumped around a bit at the start or miss their first few opportunities. The Raptors and their fans can keep talking about statement games and showing everybody that they are a good team, but they will need to convince themselves that they are able to get a lot tougher; that they are able to take care of teams like the Nets.

That isn’t to say that the Nets are a bad team, they’re not. Let’s be honest here, they’re not that far behind the Raptors. As much as they are able to completely disappear during games, RJ and VC have been playing well lately, actually looking like they care about playing for something. I haven’t seen either one of them put on their ass lately, so that may account for something. Throw out Primo in the first few minutes to send a few messages their way and maybe we could see RJ and VC crawl back into their oh so familiar holes. The guy I always dread is Nachbar. For some reason, he just seems like he gets a lot of good looks. This could be because he isn’t as deadly of a threat from 3 as people seem to think he is (35%), so there isn’t a real need to play right up on him, but I think he also does a good job of moving without the ball and creating space. You have to lose some respect for a guy who is supposed to be a shooter, yet shoots under 80% from the line. That says, “headcase” to me. Guy has a sore back right now, so he might see a lot of bench time anyway.

Seriously, Stromile Swift is still in the NBA? I guess…he had 10 and 6 against the Raps last time around, but he just seems like a guy who just can’t put it all together. Sometimes it is strange how a guy just has an image like that.

Well, enjoy the game.

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Raps Take Care of the Bucks

Okay, so if you were going to be out of the lineup, if you had to write a guy out, couldn’t you just say that he had a strained abdominal or something like that? Do you really have to list Mo Williams as being out with Pubic Symphysitis? Just in case you’re not familiar with what it is, click here. I think I might take a DNP-CD instead of being listed as out with that.

Anyway, on to the game. It was a fairly well balanced attack from the Raptors tonight, but it looks like Delfino has gone into another one of his zero confidence phases. This guy goes through more phases than a 15 year old girl. I’m not sure what he was going out there tonight, but he looked lost, like the Bucks were running some seriously complex offensive system. When he had open looks, he didn’t take them and when he didn’t, he did. Looked like he was shooting a medicine ball tonight.

We saw once again how when TJ is in control, he can be very effective. No turnovers, 7 assists and 14 points, that’s a solid night. It was against the Bucks, so we’ll take it for what it’s worth, but you have to like the fact that since being put back in the starter’s role, he hasn’t been pressing nearly as much as when he was coming off the bench.

So Primo, Hump and Gatorade Graham all get just over a minute of playing time and guess which guy can’t find the basket? Check that, guess which guy doesn’t even get a shot off? Yep, Gatorade Graham. He did manage to get an assist, but at some point you really have to wonder how much GG even cares anymore. There’s no place for him on this team, he’s just pulling a Yogi. Show up, get dressed, sit down, go home and sleep on a bed of money. You know if Hump gets into the game with a minute left, first chance he gets, he’s going to attack. When Primo hits the court, he’s going to will the ball into the net and if not, he’s going to get his fouls. He’s probably disappointed that he played a minute and didn’t commit a foul. That’s not gangsta.

Can we talk again about how good Rasho has been? He runs like M. Piedlourde, he can’t jump and he doesn’t have a lot of moves, but he’s doing the job. Getting continuously dunked on doesn’t seem to phase him either. Good for Rasho. One of those guys whose value you don’t realize until they’re gone.

Well, like I mentioned earlier, this was a game the Raptors should have won, so there isn’t a lot to celebrate, but there was the potential for a lot of despair had they lost it. Not really a step forward, but certainly not a step back.

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Raps vs. Bucks Preview

So you’re a team captain, you’re a leader, you’re the face of the franchise. Your team has been struggling, you probably aren’t 100% healthy and the playoffs are just around the corner. Sounds like the perfect time to rally the troops, to talk about picking it up down the stretch and carrying that momentum into the playoffs, to get everyone thinking that, “Hey, this is just the nature of basketball, as easily as we have struggled, we can turn it around in time for the playoffs.” Right? Right? No. If you’re Chris Bosh, you figure this is the perfect time to come out and say that you need to trust your teammates more, which the media translates into: Bosh doesn’t trust his teammates. Nice work Chris, way to get that team confidence up before the playoffs, because it’s not like confidence is something the team is lacking right now, nope, the Raptors have tons of that.

Which brings me to the Bucks. I don’t know if there is a worse matchup for the Raptors right now than the Bucks. You see, the problem is, the Bucks aren’t very good, but they do have some good players who can quickly turn a game around. If the Raptors win this game, it will bring a bit of confidence, but nobody is going to start thinking, “Okay, we have things turned around, we’re on the right track.” If the Raptors lose this game, there are going to be some serious questions going around heading into the playoffs. Given, it’s not like losing to the Heat, but it also isn’t like losing to the Celtics by 1 in triple OT. There are differences in the magnitude of wins and losses; wins and wins; and losses and losses. I only hope the Raptors don’t have to find out about that the hard way.

I am a little nervous about the Ford vs. Williams matchup. Mo Williams scores more than TJ does and averages around the same amount of assists per game (but let’s remember that Mo plays far more minutes than TJ). The part that worries me is that Williams is quick and will not hesitate to shoot the ball. If he knocks down a few near the start of the game, TJ might want to step up against him, turning it into a competition. We have seen the good and the bad of this, most glaringly, the game against Orlando. Bosh has said that he has not been trusting his teammates, but this might be a game where he also needs to trust in himself and in his ability to dominate a guy like Charlie V. If that game can get going early, it might help to tame what could turn into a schoolyard competition.

What also makes me nervous about facing the Bucks just before the playoffs is that Andrew Bogut is a thug. We might have to let Primo show just how “gangsta” he is (and remember, the Groin is a Gangsta). I fear Bogut getting into another one of his elbow swinging moods, breaking somebody’s nose or just sending them to the floor (wow, sound like some of the ferocity the Raptors need? Not as his position, but that fire is desperately lacking here).

Well, enjoy the game!

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Maybe Sam’s a Genius

Maybe it’s the fruity alcoholic drinks talking, maybe it’s the twirling paper umbrella distracting my thought process, but maybe, just maybe, Sam Mitchell is a genius. You see, if over the next 5 games, the Raptors go 3-2, they’re going to end up lining up against the Magic. One would have to think that out of the Celtics, Pistons, Cavs and Magic, the one you would want to face would have to be the Magic. Even more than that, the Raptors probably match up best against the Magic (as long as TJ doesn’t have another TJ vs Arroyo night). While most teams tank games to try to get better picks, maybe the Raptors tank games to get better playoff matchups. Maybe they’re just not that good.

But let’s go back to Sam being a genius. Let’s say that Sam has been watching Mike “Pinball” Clemons continually get the most out of his players by coming through with some seriously motivational speeches. Sam has the players in the locker room, he starts talking about how nobody thinks they are going to beat the Magic. He keeps going, talking about how everybody wants to see the ManChild, Superman, Dwight Howard move on in the playoffs. He says how every media guy, from the guys on tv, to the guys in print, to the guys on the radio, the the guys at RaptorsForum (c’mon, what?) have been getting on them all season and now is the time to shut them (us…because they really do care about us here at RF…US) up.

Maybe Sam goes all religious on the team. Gets them all huddled and starts talking about how God doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle, that the big thing is using what he has given you to accomplish what you need to. He talks about finding that inner strength, realizing that when you think you don’t have anything left in the tank, when you think that this season has been the toughest emotional ride you have been on, that’s when you have to find the strength that God has put inside you, the ability he has blessed you with.

Sam could go with the “question their manhood” route. He simply starts talking about how getting to the playoffs isn’t the hard part, that anybody can do that (especially in the East). He says that real men show up when they are challenged. That real men find out about themselves when the pressure is on, when people don’t believe in them. He says that if you go into the playoffs and don’t show the effort, that you may as well just sit home and eat bonbons while watching reruns of the Mom Show.

Maybe Sam is just going to the the TJ ally-oop buzzer play on every inbounds pass. I mean, hey, it was an actual play and it pretty much worked…

Maybe Sam’s just waiting for Toni Braxton to come back to town.

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Raps vs. Nets Post-game

When Vince Carter sucks it up, plays through pain and drops 32 on you; when you have a terrible 3 point shooter taking 6 three-point attempts (Jamario); when your good 3 point shooter goes 1-8 from 3; when you can only score 90 ON THE NETS, who give up over 100 on average…then call up Tenor Saw or the Fu-Schnickens (there’s one for ya), it’s time to ring the alarm.

There were all kinds of excuses bounding around tonight, with Chuck and Leo talking about fatigue and a million other reasons why the Raptors looked like garbage, other than the fact that maybe they are. At this point, with the team looking like they are in complete disarray heading into the playoffs…sorry, backing into the playoffs, there isn’t any reason to be optimistic about the Raptors chances of getting out of the first round. They are going to have to suddenly revert to that energetic Raptor team that shows up once in a while, but every night.

Personally, I thought Jose’s move of offering to go back to the bench (or accepting it) was a classy move, but it also lacked some balls. If you know that you are a better at starting then coming off the bench, then make it known and show that you are a leader. Jose just hasn’t looked himself on a consistent basis since returning to the bench, while TJ has actually silenced many critics by playing fairly stable basketball. I hate seeing guys perform beneath their abilities and that is what Jose is doing right now.

Just so I have this straight, the Raptors can’t rebound the ball for their lives and Hump is a DNP-CD? Hell, at this point, I might even throw Gatorade Graham in there to shake things up a bit. True, you have to get set for the playoffs, but you also have to send a message to the team that you aren’t going to win anything playing like this. Hell, can we suit up Linton Johnson III? Hump’s rebounding and overall game has seriously dropped off, but it’s a little bit of chicken/egg. Did his game really drop off first, resulting in him going to the bench, or did he spend too much time on the bench, thus resulting in his poor play? The guy had two simple functions out there. Rebound and run the court. You put it past that, it’s just not going to happen for the guy. But hey, you have to admit that sometimes he gets a little too caught up in his own “game.”

Let’s just hope the Raptors are getting the losses all out now and are going to perform a miracle playoff run. Turn it into a Disney movie or something.

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Raps vs. Cats Post-game

Yikes. When the Bobcats are posting points on you not once, but twice in a week, you have defensive issues. Wait, you have defensive issues, rebounding issues, transition issues…I’m talking Bobby & Whitney in the 90s sized issues. But before we get into the Raps and their shameful loss to the Bobcats, let’s take a minute to remember the man that was Rasho. The man who got POSTERIZED by J-Rich tonight. I mean, I’m no Bobcat lover, but that was a big time dunk. I don’t know how many better dunks I’ve seen this year. Actually, let’s roll with this for a bit. Coming down the lane, there was no doubt what Jason Richardson was going to do. He saw the opportunity and took it, throwing down a dunk with such force and reckless abandon, he looked like a guy who forgot he was playing for Charlotte. Let’s also give J-Rich a former Raptor claw for his MoPete-worthy circus shot to set up the and 1. We pretty much saw everything from Richardson tonight, 27 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and he even found time to throw in a couple of steals. That’s a guy taking full advantage of the opportunities presented to him. We saw from Richardson, some of the aggression that the Raptors lack night in and night out. His performance tonight was essentially him saying, “I am going to keep attacking these open lanes until somebody stops me.” No Raptors answered the challenge.

Since returning to the starting PG role, we have seen a new TJ Ford. One who hasn’t been forcing the issue, a TJ who has actually looked in control for the most part and has been attacking when defenses have shown that they can’t keep up with his pace. It has been good to see TJ come back and play the kind of ball we know he can. 14 assists tonight for TJ, which is good to see, but for God’s sake, if you can’t control the ball when the game is on the line, if you turn it over without even making a move, you’re not going to win any fans in Toronto. If you want to be the starter and want to be the man running the team, then you have to be able to close the game out when it is on the line. Sure, on more than one occasion, we have seen TJ seal games down the stretch, but ones like this are going to stand out. Starters CLOSE games. That’s what he needs to get into his head. Starters CLOSE games.

The Raptors had 3 different ways they could have ensured their playoff spot tonight. If they beat Charlotte, they were in. If Washington won, they were in and if Jersey lost, they were in. So of course, the Raptors couldn’t just win their game, they had to lose to an inferior team and then watch the other two scenarios fall into place. Maybe going into the playoffs, the Raptors strategy will be to have their opposition just win for them. Count on them making more mistakes than they do. Getting into the playoffs by backing in is sort of like showing up for a party that you weren’t really invited to, but everybody there knows you and they know that you crashed the joint. We’ve been saying it for a while, but along with getting tougher, the Raptors have to have some pride. When you have your team’s fate in your own hands, you have to step up and show everyone that you’re ready for the playoffs. The Raptors clearly aren’t.

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Hawks Post-game and a tiny Cats Preview

I don’t know what it is about games against Atlanta, but something always seems to happen. It’s like the two teams step into a vortex, separate from the world, where anything and everything will happen. Anyway, let’s get right to it. The fact that the Raptors are even talking about losing this game by not having TJ’s lay-in count is ridiculous. The Raptors can say that they were robbed all they want, but they must also realize that they blew a 17 point lead and gave up a combined 47 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. They must also admit that they were only able to score 16 points in the fourth quarter and were outrebounded 47-37. Only after they admit all of those deficiencies can they start talking about the clock and whether or not they should have won. Should they have won? Yes. Did they deserve to win? No. There’s a big difference.

There was a lot of criticism around how the Raptors allowed the Hawks to have Bibby, Johnson and then Bibby again to get good looks at 3 to tie the game and most of it is well deserved. You KNOW Bibby is going to be the guy they are going to look for, so you can’t lose him. You just can’t. Have somebody else send it to overtime if it has to happen. The part I didn’t agree with, was the criticism over a) the Raptors’ decision not to foul and b) TJ not getting up close on Bibby on the game tying shot. Let’s be realistic. The Raptors were slow all night getting to guys, so thinking that they were going to get to a guy and wrap him up before he got into a shooting motion is a little crazy. Would you be more upset with the Raptors not fouling a guy and having him make the shot or having them foul him on a 3 attempt and then send him to the line to try to tie it up? It’s a lot easier to shoot free throws, the percentages don’t lie. Okay, now on to the second part. I have no problem with TJ getting up on Bibby and then putting a hand up in the air. Remember how everybody was all over Jamario back in the start of the season when he ran out on a three, with far too much aggression and ended up fouling on a 3 attempt? Luckily, they were able to pull that game out, but TJ would have been crucified if he had fouled there. He shouldn’t have lost Bibby on the play, but I’ll take him just getting a hand up and having Bibby make the pressure shot to send it to overtime (where you STILL have a chance to win) than sending Bibby to the line by fouling him in the shooting motion. Let’s remember that Bibby is a vet and we have all seen him lean into a guy on his attempt, making the shot AND getting the foul. Want to see some real dramatics? Watch Bibby nail a 3, fall into TJ for the foul and then hit the 3 to win.

We’re usually all over Sam for his inability to draw up a play coming out of a timeout, so let’s give credit when he comes up with a gem. The inbounds ally-oop to TJ was beautifully drawn up and could be one of the first times we have actually seen a scripted play that made use of TJ’s speed. TJ was killing the Hawks all night with speed, so it was good to see Sam recognize that and use it at a crucial point in the game.

The loss to the Hawks is exactly what I was talking about earlier. You can see that they are hungry to make the playoffs. They didn’t let the 17 point defecit get them down, they kept making shots and capitalized on the Raptors’ inability to stop them on D. So many holes were presented to them, they really just had to choose their weapon.

So now back against Charlotte (who makes the schedule anyway?). This should be an opportunity for the Raptors to get back into the win column, but from what we saw the other night against the Cats, nothing is guaranteed with the Raptors. The Raptors can’t put teams away when they have the lead, they can’t put teams away when they are missing their best players…essentially, they just don’t have that killer instinct. If the Raptors were with you in a street fight, they’d say, “Dude, I got you out of the bar safely, you’re on your own now” and then they’d book it down the street. It would be nice to see them come out and take care of a team that they are supposed to take care of, leaving no doubt that they are superior. It has to do with attitude. You have the ability to control your attitude. You craft it and others believe it. Even if it isn’t really true, if you can sell it enough, people will buy into what you’re selling.

Enjoy the game.

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Raps vs. Hawks Preview

As far as I am concerned, the Raptors should consider themselves as losers of 2 straight. That “win” over the Bobcats, you know, the one where they managed to hang on, didn’t have any sort of defensive presence, shot 73% from the free throw line, outrebounded the Cats by 1 and essentially showed no toughness at all. The toughest thing about the Raptors right now is Primo Brezec’s groin, because to quote Primo, “I told you guys, the groin is a gangsta.”

If the Raptors have any illusions of being a serious basketball team right now, they have to get their heads set straight, because they are not even close. This was a Bobcats team that has no Morrison, no May, no Harrington and Gerald Wallace has been banged up all season and the Raptors weren’t able to stop them. This is a team that is 22nd in the league in scoring.

What I also found very worrisome is that far too many times, the Raptors were looking to make the extra pass when a strong move to the basket would have finished the play. In a strange turn of events, Jamario Moon seemed to figure this out, nice that he has brought this element of his game out with a few games remaining in the regular season. Sure, he went 3-6 from the line, but at least he was finally getting there. It’s strange, but you would think that a guy who can dunk like Jamario, would always be looking for any opportunity to dunk, especially if he could posterize somebody. Remember back when Shawn Kemp would dunk on anybody any chance he got? Remember how suddenly the only thing he was dunking was donuts? What the hell happened there? Anyway, I digress.

So moving into the Hawks game, the Raptors are coming in facing a young Hawks team that is quietly moving up the standings, presently occupying the last playoff spot in the East and playing well at home. They have won 4 straight and will be doing everything they can to try to catch Philly and Toronto in order to get a more favourable first round matchup. Joe Johnson and Al Horford were just named the Eastern conference Player and Rookie of the month respectively, showing the nice gel they have going with the youth and vets. The addition of 9 year vet Mike Bibby has also provided some punch and calmed their backcourt.

The Raptors are going to have to show a little toughness against the Hawks. They have been bullied before by the Hawks this year and showed a startling lack of aggression back when TJ’s injury occurred. If the Hawks sense that same sort of passivity this time around, we will really find out who is hungrier going into the playoffs.

Enjoy the game.

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