Archive for December, 2008

Game 28: Raps vs. Clippers - Pre-game

Coming off a loss to the Spurs, the Raptors actually have some momentum.  This might sound strange for a team that just lost by 10 points, but when you are playing like the Raptors have been playing lately and you play well enough to beat a team but are done in by 3-pointers, you have to find the silver linings where you can.

The thing that may be tough for the Raptors is the same thing that may have aided the Spurs.  The Clippers are coming off having their asses handed to them by the Bucks the other night and that can only serve as some motivation, as they will want to save some face at home. 

For the Raptors, the key will be pushing the ball up the floor and capitalizing on a Clippers team that is admittedly tired.  It’s one thing to have back to back games and be playing a lot of minutes, but when players start complaining to the media about how tired they are, then it sounds like they are getting excuses ready for any upcoming losses. 

Even more important that pulshing the ball up the court will be (here it comes) rebounding, because the Clippers have some guys who are just made for it.  Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby are rebounding machines and let’s not forget that while he is usually out of shape, Zach Randolph is also a beast on the boards.  Second chance points could be a real killer for the Raptors, so if they are able to get up and down the court with a team that is tired, they might be able to suck a little of the strength out of the Clippers, making rebounding slightly easier.

What plays into the Raptors favour is that the Clippers (surprisingly) don’t play the greatest D.  They give up just as many points as the Raptors do and to be honest, that has played a lot into them only having 8 wins at this point in the season.  Look at the roster that they throw at you and that sounds like a team that should be winning more games than it is losing.  Baron Davis.  Marcus Camby.  Chris Kaman.  Zach Randolph (well…as much as we make fun of him, he does play a significant role).  Al Thornton.   Those are some big players right there and the kind who should be providing you with wins, but when you get into their bench, there’s not a lot coming from there, with Eric Gordon as the best bet.

This could be a game that the Raptors take.  If they are able to get out to a lead (which hasn’t been a problem lately) they might be able to get to a point where the Clippers are just too tired to mount a comeback.  The Raptors might be able to actually hold a lead for once.

I guess we’ll see.

Game 27: Raps vs. Spurs - Post-game

There are losses that you can be absolutely disgusted with (like the lifeless loss to the Thunder the other night) and there are losses you can live with, where the team actually didn’t look too bad.  Tonight against the Spurs, I would have to go with the latter.

The Raptors did a lot of things right tonight.  They worked the inside well, outscoring the Spurs in points in the paint (34-28), led by JO’s solid 24 and 10 double-double.  JO also brought a little bit of the grit I was talking about earlier, being active on D and questioning some calls that (and I agree) where questionable at best.  He kept Tim Duncan under wraps and had him at his whining best with the refs (man, Duncan’s whining has gotten really bad over the years).  You could see that JO’s shoulder was bothering him, but he managed to suck it up and come out with another strong performance.

The Raptors also came out of the gate fairly strong, winning the first quarter, although going into the half down by single digits.  They were outrebounded again, but at least they were competing for some of those rebounds, something we have seen them avoid far too often.

But in the end, the Raptors were done in by the 3.  Not them relying on it too much, but from the Spurs draining a club record tying 16 3-pointers.  Some slow rotations led to some good looks on a lot of those 3’s, but many of them were with guys coming out to get a hand in their faces, so you can’t really complain too much when that happens.  As we have seen the Raptors do to many teams over the yeras, sometimes when you get hot from behind the arc, there isn’t a lot the other team can do to stop you.  It can make up for a lot of errors you are having on a certain night and it definitely played a big role in the win over the Raptors.

The one area where the Raptors really could have improved was their coverage of Tony Parker.  I understand that he is a world class PG, but really, the way the Raptors let him knife to the basket was embarrassing at times.  On more than one occasion, we saw him walk between 3 Raptors, on his way in for another easy layup.  Some of this can be attributed to the fact that Jose was sick, but realistically, we have seen this clear lane for too many opposing players this season.  I don’t care how good any player is, at some point, you have to make the lane a horrible place to be, somewhere where there is a decent chance you will end up with a face-to-face meeting with some NBA hardcourt.

So now off to face the Clippers.  I think the Raptors can take a lot of positives from this game, they actually played well enough to win, but were ultimately done in by the 3 (by two former Raptors too).  Sometimes, there isn’t a whole lot you can do when the opposition just starts making shots.

Game 27: Raps vs. Spurs - Pre-game

There are a few ways you can look at tonight’s game against the Spurs.  You can say that it is horrible timing for the Raptors, who just can’t beat anybody right now; you can say that they have to get right back on the horse and that the Spurs are a good team that you have to get up and get ready for; you can say that the Spurs have been struggling lately and that the Raptors might catch them sleeping or you can say that the Spurs and Pop will not be happy with their play as of late and will take it out on the Raptors.  I have a feeling you might see a little bit of all of the above.

The thing about getting embarrassed is that if you have a lot of time to think about what happened, things just get worse.  You start overanalyzing, getting down on yourself, even getting down on your friends (teammates).  With the Raptors right now, they don’t have time to worry about last night’s loss to the Thunder, because they have to be ready for tonight’s loss game against the Spurs. 

It would be nice if we could see the Raptors come out with a little bit of determination, with some fight, but lately, that has been the thing that has been missing.  It’s not so much coming out with the fight as it is being able to keep that fire in the belly for the whole game.  Make no mistake, the Spurs are the kind of team that can just wear you down until in the 4th quarter, you just break.  The Raptors don’t need any help in that department, so it will be up to Jay Triano to get the best out of his rotation in the final frame.  Could it be that more Joey is the key in the 4th?  I never in my wildest dreams thought I would say this, but Joey has been the guy providing the most consistent play over the past 5 games or so and he actually hasn’t looked too bad on D either.

The Raptors need to get back to working inside, banging with the big boys.  Bosh and JO (if he is playing) need to work that low post and if there is nothing there, then work the ball back outside.  I think it should also be mandatory for Chris Bosh to immediately park himself on the bench if he launches another 3-pointer.   I don’t know what is going through his head when he takes those shots, I’m sure he thinks he is great shooter and to a point, he does have a good jumper, but there is absolutely no need for him to be touching the ball AT ALL outside of the arc.

I would look for JO to return in this game, I’d be surprised if he wasn’t good enough to go or if he wasn’t looking for a challenge.  I think the one thing we can say about JO is that he usually doesn’t back down from a challenge and after last night’s performance, pulling out a win today is more of a quest.  Could the grit the Raptors need come from JO today?  We’ll see.

Game 26: Raps vs. Thunder - Post-game

Well, that didn’t look too promising at all.  The Raptors put on their uniforms and that was about it tonight as the Thunder was loud and clear for the boys in red.  When I was a kid, I was terrified of thunder and seeing some of the Raptors playing tonight, I had some flashbacks to being stranded in the middle of a baseball diamond, hearing the thunder getting closer.

The part that bothered me the most about tonight’s loss wasn’t so much that they actually lost to the worst team in the league, because honestly, the Raptors haven’t been playing very well lately and it wasn’t unreasonable to think that this game could get away from them.  What bothered me was that they were down the whole game.   It’s bad enough that they have been blowing leads all over the place, sorry, blowing double-digit leads all over the place, but when you’re down wire to wire against the worst team in the league, then you have to start wondering about heart.

A few weeks ago, I was talking about swagger.  The Raptors clearly have none.  They don’t have a guy who is going to step up and light a fire under anybody’s butt.  They don’t have an Oakley.  I know, he’s the last name you want to hear right now, but he’s exactly the kind of grit the Raptors need. Somebody who can do the dirty work on the court and when he’s not on it, he’ll get in your face if he doesn’t see the same kind of effort. 

While we saw Mason and Durant dunking over JO and Moon tonight, those were clearly some half-hearted challenges from the Raptor end (although it looked to me like Mason used his left arm for a clearout on the dunk, but whatever…if you’re hoping for calls like that at this point, wow).  When you are going up to try to block a guy going for a dunk, you had better mean it or else you could wind up getting hurt.  Oh wait, JO did leave the game with a shoulder injury, right?

Losses to bad teams happen.  It’s part of the game.  That’s why the cliche goes, “That’s why they play the game.”  It wasn’t like this came out of left field, like the Raptors were rolling along and then suddenly had a wheel fall off.  This was a case of the Raptors already driving a broken down car on its rims and hitting another in a series of potholes.  But it’s the lack of passion that is disturbing.  You can’t be behind in a game like that and not take it personally.  Those are the kind of games when you get back to the hotel and you have to stand in front of the mirror and take a good look at yourself.  You have to ask if you gave everything you had that night or whether you quit.

The good thing for the Raptors is that they have now officially hit rock bottom.  This is their chance to say, “It doesn’t get any worse than this, we have to turn things around right now and take some pride in the effort we put out on the court every night.”   Otherwise, Jay Triano is going to be drawing X’s and O’s for his own enjoyment.  You can draw up the plays, but you can’t paint passion into somebody’s heart.  If the Raptors don’t have any pride, then the rest of the season could be ugly.  If they do, then there is still plenty of time to turn things around.

Fear and Loathing in Toronto

So on my walk home from the GO station today (how does the wind manage to blow into my face on the way there in the morning and on the way home?), I stared up at the sky and was shocked when it didn’t fall on me.  I had this notion that the sky was falling, because Raptor fans are all in a panic, stating that the season is lost and that simply, the Raptors suck.  Well, parts of that are true.  a) The Raptors have managed to squander a lot of games that they should have closed, so yes, those games and any possible momentum has been lost, and; b) at times, the Raptors have sucked.

But let’s be realistic here.  The Raptors are just past the quarter point of the season, so there is still a lot of basketball to play and we have seen far worse teams turn it around and then get rolling.  Remember Philly last year?  They started the season 5-19 before turning things around and making the playoffs just behind the Raptors as the 7th seed in the East.  Is making the playoffs enough for the Raptors this season?  Well, I would have to say that we would probably all be disappointed at another first round exit, but you never know what will happen once they get there.  That’s why the play the games.

Some of the problems the Raptors are having are ones that can be corrected before the midway point.  They can effectively change their mindset and get tough enough to close out some leads.  We have already seen some improved defensive efforts, so that is slowly progressing.  We seem to have lost the effectiveness of Bosh and Bargnani, but once the Raptors get both of them focused on driving to the basket again, they should improve.  We have also seen some solid minutes from Roko Ukic, making the need to bring in a backup PG not as much of a pressing issue as somebody who can get to the basket or somebody who can just crash the boards all night.

The fact is, this whole end-of-the-world mentality that seems to follow Raptor fans isn’t connected solely to the Raptors.  It’s a Toronto thing.  Toronto fans are never happy and we have more than enough media outlets to add fuel to any fire that they see brewing.  We also have some journalists who, while talented, seem to rarely have anything good to say about the team (Mr. Feschuk, step right up).  We pounce all over that and run with it, making it seem like the Raptors are the worst team in the league. 

The Leafs and Jays have been dealing with this forever.  People get all over the Jays when they actually play in the toughest division in baseball.  They get all over the Leafs because it is just something fans here are born with, some sort of defective gene.  Luckily, those of us who weren’t born in Toronto, don’t seem to have this constant black cloud hanging over our heads.  We can manage to see some of the good there is around our teams (but I’ll be damned if I ever call the Leafs my team…GO HABS). 

Let’s not kid ourselves, the Raptors aren’t a great basketball team right now, but they’re not a disaster.  They’re not in the playoff picture right now, but they’re only 2 games out of the 8th spot and 2 1/2 games out of the 6th spot.  With some winnable games coming up, the Raptors actually have a chance to make up some ground.   Is this the game that is going to make their season?  No.  But if they lose it, I’ll be wearing a helmet when I’m shovelling the driveway Saturday morning, just in case it’s not only some snow that’s coming down from above.

Game 26: Raps vs. Thunder - Pre-game

I was at my division’s Christmas party last night, so I didn’t get a chance to see the game and therefore didn’t get a chance to write a post-game, but from what I understand, it was more of the same.  Blown leads, lack of rebounding, guys not being able to defend in the crunch, typical Raptor stuff.  So that’s why facing the Thunder right now is actually pretty intriguing.

Intriguing you say?  Yes, intriguing.  Why?  Well, because this is probably the worst time the Raptors could face the Thunder.  We all know that the Raptors are not playing well right now.  They’re not rebounding, they’re blowing double-digit leads, they’re complaining about the booing (Bosh, dude, that was weak), things just aren’t really rosy right now.  So the last team you want to see right now is the worst team in the league that you should handle pretty easily.

What makes it worse is that this is the first game on the longest road trip of the season at 6 games.  If the Raptors lose this one, it will be a serious blow to whatever confidence they have right now and they will then have to pick up the pieces and walk into San Antonio.  If they win, it will really be looked at as a game they should have won, so there’s no real momentum gained. 

Realistically, the Raptors should be able to win 3 of the next 4 games.  I am comfortable saying that they should be able to beat the Thunder (although even the Thunder outrebound the Raptors right now) and they should also be able to take care of the Clippers and the Kings.  If they are able to do that, then they might be able to start talking about momentum and regaining confidence, but if not, look out.

The Thunder can try all they want, but this team is cursed.  It’s karma (you know, that thing that Carson Daly came up with?) pure and simple.  By moving the Sonics out of Seattle and into the basketball hotbed of OKC without any serious effort to keep them in Seattle, karma is taking full effect.

Kevin Durant has still been playing solid basketball and you have to appreciate his determination on a losing team.  He has been hustling and showing the athleticism that he promised before coming into the league and he could be a tough guard for the Raptors, who are showing that they really aren’t as quick as they think they are. 

So is this an all-important game for the Raptors?  Is this the game that is going to define which way the rest of the season is going to go for the Raptors?  No.  It is just one game and while it could have some negative effect over the next few games if they lose, it definitely isn’t going to be some magical benchmark that is going to seal their fate for the 2008-2009 season.  Should be fun to watch.

3 in the Key

1. Please God, don’t get outrebounded by the Thunder.  They are actually ahead of the Raptors in rebounding, but a little effort on the Raptors part should take care of that (hopefully).

2. If the Raptors manage to get a lead, they will need to hold onto it this time.  If a young and losing team gets a little sniff of coming back into a game where they are down by double digits, it won’t take much for them to get excited and get the crowd into it.

3. Quit shooting jumpers all night (Bosh).  This is a team that the Raptors should be able to take inside.

Game 25: Raps vs. Mavs - Pre-game

After blowing things against the Nets the other night, Chris Bosh pretty much summed up the Raptors problems, saying, “We’re giving up multiple shots. For the game, they shot 38 percent. If I told you we held a team to 38 percent, you would ask me how much we won by.”  Yup.  It really is that simple…well, it is on paper, but the Raptors have miraculously found a way to get their asses handed to them on the boards on a nightly basis.

Things aren’t going to get any easier on the boards for the Raptors either, as they are coming in against a Mavs team that can flat out rebound, settling into the second spot in the league in that category.  The strange thing is, the Mavs also give up a lot of rebounds.  It doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but it doesn’t really matter a whole lot for the Raptors, who have no idea how to position themselves to even be in the right arena to grab a board.

Surprisingly, Jason Kidd is still running quite well and getting the ball into the hands of his sharpshooters.  He’s not going to run anybody down on D anymore, so we are starting to see that part of his game exposed a bit, but he’s still highly effective on the floor.  To give you an idea of his effort, he’s only averaging 1 rebound less per game than JO. 

A lot of things point to the Mavs running away with this game (their ability to score, rebound, runt the floor), but they’re only 13-10, which leads one to believe that they do have some fair-sized holes in their game.  I believe some of that can be accounted to having lost Josh Howard for 11 games, but now he is back into the mix.  The Mavs have had some games where they have gone through stretches of defensive (and sometimes offensive) lapses, so the Raptors will have to hope for some of those and capitalize on their opportunities.

3 in the Key

1. Does it really need to be said anymore?  With a team like the Mavs coming in, their second chance points have to be limited.  They will probably outrebound the Raps, but that doesn’t mean the Raps can’t keep it close.

2. Don’t get into a game of chase with the Mavs.  They’re starting to get a little old, but they can still run the court and catch you sleeping in transition. 

3. Don’t resort to using the 3 as an option too early in the game.  If the Raps fall behind early, they don’t have the rebounding available to pull themselves out of a hole.

Game 24: Raps vs. Nets - Post-game

There are breakdowns and then there are breakdowns.  What we witnessed tonight was a classic breakdown.  The problem is, we’ve seen so many breakdowns from the Raptors, we have to start categorizing them.  Once you start having to do that with your team, you know you have some serious problems.

If Chris Bosh really wants to cement himself as a leader and eventually win an MVP award, he is going to have to be a little smarter down the stretch.  I can understand Jamario Moon jacking up ill-advised shots near the end of the game, because I don’t think Jamario is one of the smarter guys on the court and I certainly don’t see him as a leader.  But when Bosh comes down the court and jacks up shots when the Raptors and down, have no momentum and have not even set anything up yet on offence, you have to wonder what’s up.

In the pre-game, I mentioned that the Raptors couldn’t make this game about Vince and they took care of that, allowing him to get a double-double.  But what was inexcusable was that Ryan Anderson walked in to the ACC and had the night of his life.  To paraphrase Tony Kornheiser, “I wouldn’t know Ryan Anderson if he walked into the room with a shirt on that said, ‘I’m Ryan Anderson.’”  Who?  Seriously, have the Raptors no pride?  It’s bad enough that Devin Harris was able to just score at will in the 4th quarter, but who the hell is Ryan Anderson?  The guy was dropping bombs, grabbing boards…the Raptors acted like he wasn’t even on the court.

In the preview for the Hornets game yesterday, we were talking about how the Raptors shouldn’t be too happy with their win over the Nets Friday night, because there were still a lot of problems, mainly the rebounding.  I don’t care if you are holding a team to a low shooting percentage, if you allow them to gain enough rebounds, you are losing opportunities on your offensive end and are giving up more chances on your own.  Eventually, it will catch up with you and for the Raptors, it did tonight.

Well, Dallas up on Wednesday, on TSN2 again.  It’s like the Raptors and the broadcasters just continue to find ways to kick their fans in the teeth.  TSN2.  Good God.

Game 24: Raps vs. Nets - Pre-game

Is it just me or does it feel like the Raptors are only playing 4 teams over and over?  Kind of feels like a rec league.

Anyway, it’s the Nets again and with the couple of games that have taken place between the two teams this season, who knows what we will see this time around.  While Vince Carter broke our collective heart last time he was in town, every Raptor fan had to take some pleasure in the ass-kicking that was handed back to Vince in his building…topping it off with the worst performance we have ever seen from him was almost too much to ask for.  An 0-13 night with 3 points?  That’s the kind of stuff dreams are made of.

But if the Raptors and Raptor fans alike were able to enjoy Friday’s win over the Nets, everyone should be on notice that the party is over.  As fun as it was to see VC have to eat it, you have to know that he is going to be ready for this game.  We have seen it on more than one occasion where Vince doesn’t show up and then comes out the next game and looks unstoppable.  Come to think of it, that was a good part of what Toronto fans couldn’t stand about him.  Once the going got tough, Vince settled for jumpers and eventually closed up shop.  Skipping the post game interview Friday night was weak. 

For the Raptors, they can’t make this game about Vince and I’m sure Jay Triano will be making that point.  The Nets have shown that they have some young talented weapons, so too much focus on Vince could end up killing the Raptors.  The rebounding problem was still there…which is why the Raps picked up Jake Voskuhl.  Wha?  Jake Voskuhl?  What’s the over/under on Jake’s playing time?  Let’s give that a 5 minute tag and we’re ready to go.

3 in the Key

1. Don’t make the game about Vince.  Sure, he will be ready, but so will the rest of the Nets.

2. The Raptors can’t afford to get outrebounded again.  Second chance points will spell the end of the game.

3. Andrea needs to pick things up and start attacking again.

Game 23: Raps vs. Hornets - Post-game

Once again, let’s go back to confidence.  Often, it is misplaced, resulting in delusional tendencies…like when Chris Bosh decides with his team down 7 and a couple of minutes left on the clock, that it’s the right time for him to launch a 3.  That’s misplaced confidence in your ability.  I’ve said a bunch of times that Bosh should not be handling the ball outside the arc at all, but for some reason, late in the game, he seems to always have the ball out there.  Why is that happening?  With the clock ticking down and the Raptors trailing, Bosh should not be touching the ball above the free throw line.  It’s not to say that he can’t hit the jumpers, but you have to go with the more high-probability shots and jumpers just aren’t.  3 pointers?  Even less.

I mentioned in the pre-game that the Hornets could shoot it from 3 and that the Raptors couldn’t let them get hot from outside.  Well, I guess they didn’t see Posey continually knocking down 3’s, because there was no urgency whatsoever to even get a hand in his face.  I’m not saying that you have to go out flying at him Jamario style, but you at least have to get a hand up.  You can’t just let him have clean looks, especially when he gets going like that.  Jay Triano said at halftime that he was fine with the looks from 3, but it was the 3’s in transition and off rebounds that he wasn’t happy about.  I’m not sure if I would completely agree with that.  Sure, if guys are hitting those 3’s, then you can only defend it so much, but you at least have to make them shoot over you. 

David West is one of my favourite guys in the league to watch play.  You rarely see him taking a shot that is out of character.  He has a really good grasp on what he does well and he sticks to it.  He’s strong and posts up almost every time down the court.  He has developed a nice baby hook and can attack with either hand, making him tough to guard down low.  When things aren’t there, he dishes it right back out and waits for it to come back in a second time.  You have to appreciate when a guy knows his role and we saw that today, as he was constantly locked down low in a battle with Bosh, a battle that he won more often that not.  The one point he has to work on is his work from the line, but another guy the Raptors could learn from.

So now on to the Nets tomorrow night (can we get this TSN2 deal finished please?) in what continues to be a strangely scheduled season.  We can be sure that VC will be looking for some redemption after stinking it up in Jersey Friday night.  Should be interesting.

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