Archive for January, 2009

Game 48: Raps vs. Bucks - Post-game

Sometimes the Raptors amaze me, but lately, that amazement hasn’t come on the positive side. More often than not, the Raptors have amazed me with some startling futility.

After looking like they had solved their 3rd quarter woes, the Raptors came out against the shorthanded Bucks and laid up a nice egg in the third quarter, scoring 12 points, which was preceeded by an almost as depressing 17 points in the 2nd quarter. It doesn’t take a seasoned NBA vet to tell you that when you score a total of 29 points over two quarters, especially two back to back quarters, you aren’t going to win many games. When you score 55 points over the last 3 quarters, it’s almost a bloody guarantee.

The Raptors couldn’t have asked for a better opponent last night than the Bucks. The Raptors had won 3 in a row coming into the game. They were making up ground on the Bucks for the last playoff spot. They had a chance to face the team they are chasing, a team that only ran 8 players out last night. EIGHT! And one of those eight was just making a return to the lineup. But where was the passion? The Raptors didn’t look like a team that had anything on the line and pretty much sleepwalked through the game. Don’t talk to me about the Bucks D, because we saw the real Bucks D in the first quarter. We saw Charlie V exposed time after time in the first quarter. This was the Raptors just not having enough balls to go out and take an opportunity that was presented to them.

The one highlight was the play of JO. I still don’t really want to see him moved out of town, because of the variety of things he brings to the Raptors. Last night, we saw him get a T after arguing what was clearly a bogus offensive foul call, but what I loved was how he took a hard foul against RJ. He wasn’t going to let him get an easy bucket, he was going to make sure he paid for it. When Charlie V tried to get up in his face, he pretty much made Charlie look like the small man that he is. While Charlie V had another great game against the Raptors, at least JO showed some fire, that the game meant something to him. If only the Raptors could get that same sort of fire going through the whole team.

Game 48: Raps vs. Bucks - Pre-game

If there was ever a time to send a message to a team, that time would be now for the Raptors against the Bucks. The Raptors are trying to catch the Bucks for the 8th playoff spot in the East and with 3 straight wins and a couple of Bucks losses, things are starting to come within view.

The Bucks have lost Michael Redd for the season and since he went down with injury, the Bucks have lost both games and are 5-11 when he hasn’t played this season. Add that to the Bucks relying on RJ (who hasn’t done anything against the Raptors this season) to pick up some of the slack and you would think that the Raptors would be relishing the opportunity to pick up another game and win their 4th in a row.

The Raptors certainly could benefit from the win (as always), but it would be a great team building statement to get that 4th win in a row, showing that they are still serious about making the most out of the season. Since Jose’s return to the lineup, the Raptors have looked like a more serious team, using their resources to the best of their ability and concentrating for a full 48 minutes.

The Bucks are starting to look like a team that is pretty beaten up. Redd is gone for the season, Bogut is still having his back spasms and has been day to day for what appears to be the whole season so far and now Luke Ridnour (who miraculously hit those 3’s last time the Raps faced them) has a mild concussion, but is expected to play. The thing about having those injuries is that those are three injuries to key guys on the Bucks. Those aren’t scrubs we are talking about, those are guys who prominently figure into how the Bucks operate. There should be some holes that the Raptors are able to exploit.

The bad news for the Raptors is that Charlie V has looked like he feels like playing in 2009. Charlie has done a good job against the Raptors and in January he has nine 20+ point games. He has started the last eight games has averaged 22.0 points and 8.3 rebounds with four double-doubles. Sounds like Charlie V is on one of his “feel like playing hard” cycles. Let’s hope we see the other half of that cycle against the Raptors.

3 in the Key

1. Keep the turnovers low. The Bucks have forced their last two opponents into a total of 43 turnovers and their opponents have nine games with 20 or more turnovers this season.

2. Don’t let RJ heat up. It’s tough to think we will see RJ play poorly again against the Raptors. With Redd out, the ball should be flowing through him a little more and the Raptors can’t afford to let him get hot.

3. Don’t fall in love with the jumper on the offensive end. The Bucks are short and hurting, so keep attacking the basket.

Game 47: Raps vs. Nets - Pre-game

I don’t know if you have to give the Nets credit for going with Brook Lopez or if they more or less had their hand forced, but the kid is having a great rookie season and is playing a big part in what has been a successful season so far for the Nets, all things considered. Lopez is 4th in the league in blocks and leads all rookies, but the thing about him is that he isn’t out there swinging his arms trying to get blocks. He gets them because he stays grounded, not jumping up and fouling guys. He’s a tough guy to get on a pump fake, especially for a rookie and he’s remarkably quick to get up when he does block a shot. He is doing well on both ends of the court, picking up double-doubles and running the floor better than I thought he would.

Luckily for the Raptors, Andrea Bargnani is playing what could possibly be the most consistent and impressive basketball to date. Bargs has at least 15 points in 15 straight games and is averaging over 20 points during that stretch. He will have to provide a good mix of shooting and attacking the basket to keep Lopez on his toes. It would be nice to see Bargs show a rookie how it’s done…much like how vets have shown him how it was done in the past.

So let’s see…this season against the Raptors, Vince has been hot, then cold, then hot, so I’m thinking maybe tonight we get him cold? I’m hoping so, because it seems Vince quits the moping and actually shows up for games against the Raptors. Why do I have a feeling the Jake “All 6″ Voskuhl will be begging for an opportunity to get into the game to um…”take care of business?”

With the Raptors upcoming schedule, this is one of those games that they really need to have. It would keep the much needed wins coming in, but it would also provide them with a bit of confidence, something that has been sorely lacking at various parts of the season.

3 in the Key

1. Control Vince. The Raptors can’t let him go off again if they want to win.

2. Take advantage of the Nets tendency to take ill-advised shots. They aren’t afraid to let the rock fly, so the Raptors will need to push them away from the basket and get on some rebounds.

3. Gradually increase Jose’s minutes so that his leg doesn’t get too worn out. We have seen very clear evidence that the Raptors need him if they are to have any success.

Game 46: Raps vs. Kings - Post-game

When Bosh and Bargs have it going, it really is a beautiful thing to watch. They seem to mesh well together, both attacking and pulling up for jumpers, making the most of what is available. Tonight was one of those nights.

We have seen Andrea playing solid basketball for a while now, but tonight I loved seeing the bit of grit he had, not backing down after getting shoved in the back by Garcia. It would have been easy enough for him to just walk away and although it’s not like he came back with a shove of his own, he stood right up in Garcia’s face before Joey came in to break things up. Standing up like that comes from confidence, knowing that you are at a point where you have faith in your game and know that you shouldn’t be taking any garbage from anybody.

The only reason this game wasn’t a complete blowout was due to the fact that Sacramento was on fire from behind the arc to start the game. A lot of those 3’s were uncontested, something that the Raptors were able to correct as the game went on. It wasn’t necessary for the Raptors to get out and try to block those shots, but they at least needed to get some hands in some faces or put a little pressure on the shooter, not letting them set up. The second half saw those open looks decrease and the Kings had to start to try to get inside on the Raptors, which wasn’t working for them.

There have been many times this season where we have seen the Raptors come out and tank the third quarter, so we should give credit to them when they come out and take care of business in the third. This game was won in the third quarter, as the Raptors were able to outscore the Kings by 10 points and open up a 13 point lead. Bargnani played a major role in the Raptors putting up those points, attacking the basket and forcing the Kings to take some hacks at him, putting him at the line. If the Raptors were able to do that a few more times earlier in the season, we might be looking at a team in a different situation than the one we see right now.

If Jamario Moon continues to miss assignments on D like he did today, JT is not going to hesitate to put him on the bench as we saw today. With the way Joey has been playing, Moon needs to be alert to what is going on around him. Usually, the defensive end hasn’t been his enemy. We have seen him play some decent D throughout the season, with the odd mental lapse, but overall, his struggles have been on the offensive end. Tonight, it just didn’t look like Jamario was in the game. You would think that when you have a teammate who is gunning for your minutes, that you would be alert and ready to play every night, but lately Moon hasn’t looked engaged. Maybe he just had a bad night, but the Raptors can’t afford many of those from anybody if they plan on making the playoffs.

Next up, Jersey. Would be nice to pick up another win with the schedule tightening up in the next little while.

Game 46: Raps vs. Kings - Pre-game

If the Raptors were ever looking for a place to pick up some momentum, they probably would have written a script that included the Sacramento Kings somewhere along the lines. The Kings are having a horrendous season, one in which they have not beaten an Eastern Conference team all season. That’s pretty tough to do. The Raptors haven’t even been able to accomplish that feat and for a good chunk of the season, the Raptors have been Rapt-horrific.

The Raptors were definitely thankful for the return of Jose Calderon against the Bulls, as he was able to provide a steadying presence, but was also just able to flat out make some plays, something the Raptors have been lacking with him out of the lineup. You have to give credit to JT for managing his return to the lineup, working him in and out and using AP as the backup while still making room for him in his regular position.

There was one thing that bothered me a bit about Jose’s post game interview. It’s something that is said across all sports, so it’s not like he said something that I’ve never heard before. Jose said, “[w]hen we play like that for 48 minutes, we’re [a] much better team than our record shows.” Okay, I hate that. No, you’re not a better team than your record shows, because your record shows that you can’t play for 48 minutes. When any team plays great for 48 minutes, they are going to look like a great team. The fact is, the Raptors this season are not a great team. Hell, they’re not a good team. So to say that the Raptors record is somehow deceiving just isn’t accurate. Sure, the Raptors have been up on a lot of teams and have lost a lot of games down the stretch that they should have won, but that’s precisely why they have the record that they have. It’s a simple rule across sports. Your record indicates EXACTLY what kind of team you are.

Now saying that a record indicates what kind of team you are doesn’t mean that you can’t rise to a challenge or even come up with some surprising wins. There are a lot of factors that go into wins and losses. We saw the Hawks almost upset the Celtics in the playoffs last year, so you see what I am saying. But the fact remains, teams who have a lot more losses than wins, tend to find ways to lose and vice versa.

Anyway, the Raptors should be able to handle the Kings and should be able to take a two game winning streak into a game against the Nets, but you know what happens to teams who start looking ahead on the schedule…

3 in the Key

1. Jose will need to continue to provide that steady hand, but will need to recognize the many opportunities to push the ball up the court that will present themselves against the Kings.

2. Run the court. The Kings have been extremely lazy at points during the season and they can be beaten down the court.

3. Don’t look ahead on the schedule. The Raptors aren’t good enough to look past anyone.

Game 45: Raps vs. Bulls - Post-game

I had this strange sensation tonight as I watched the end of the Raptors game. It started at my toes and slowly worked up through my body and yes, yes, I finally realized what it was. The feeling that the Raptors were going to win. It had been so long, I had forgotten what it felt like to see the Raptors win, but in the end, I remembered Nuke Laloosh’s great quote. “Winning…it’s like, better than losing.”

Make no mistake, this game was all about the return of Jose Calderon and his presence was emphasized when Bosh started off the game having all sorts of problems shooting. If this had been another game where Jose was out, we just might have seen the Raptors start forcing shots, trying to make up for the lack of Bosh, but with Jose in the lineup, we saw a nice calming effect on the offensive end.

In what was a solid team effort tonight, we saw some more of not the player Joey Graham should be, but the player he now is. Joey has been providing the Raptors with a steady dose of grit and enthusiasm that has been sorely lacking this season and it might have something to do with the steady floor time he has been receiving. We can no longer call him Gatorade Graham. Joey is attacking the basket like nobody’s business and he is using every bit of his frame to go up strong, which has resulted in some absolutely thunderous dunks. What has been great about Joey is that he is playing within his game, not forcing anything and capitalizing on the opportunities he has been given to drive. He was 6-7 from the floor tonight, with 4 rebounds and 16 points in 31 minutes. That’s a solid night’s work and something that the Raptors organization has to appreciate. This is the player the Raptors always envisioned (well, with maybe a few more rebounds).

Another great night from Andrea as he looks like he has finally found a comfort level that eluded him at the start of the season. While his stats were impressive tonight, the thing I liked the most about his play tonight was seen on a miss. Immediately after releasing a short jumper in the first half, Andrea charged the basket, following his own miss. He got his own rebound and went back up, only to run out to get another rebound. While you might question the shot he jacked up after that, you have to be impressed by the hustle he showed.

So now the Raptors have a little momentum. Hopefully they don’t kill it against the Kings.

Game 45: Raps vs. Bulls - Pre-game

As the esteemed RF Admin member Doc asked, “Can it get any worse?” Well Doc, to answer your question, yes it could. The Raptors could lose against the Bulls come up with another injury and then follow that up with a loss to the Kings. I think that would qualify as getting worse.

But it could also get better. Let’s consider that with a little under half a season to go, the Raptors are only 4.5 games back of Milwaukee for the final playoff spot. True, we have to take into consideration that at the start of the year, the Raptors weren’t just talking about making the playoffs, they were talking about getting past the first round of the playoffs. But let’s also consider that if you get into that 8th spot, at least you have a chance (however slim) of getting into the second round. Remember Atlanta last year? Gave Boston a pretty good scare. If you don’t even get to the 8th spot, you don’t have a chance to put a scare into anybody.

The good thing for the Raptors right now is that they are going to face three teams in a row that they have a chance of beating. The Bulls, Kings and Nets are definitely not top level teams, so the Raptors should at least be in each game. If they are able to hold a lead or execute down the stretch just a couple of times, they might be able to get things going in the right direction (even if only temporarily).

The Raptors will have to hope that they have an answer for Derrick Rose, because last time around he didn’t look like a rookie. Since that game, he hasn’t really done anything, so if you have to say a little prayer so he doesn’t use the Raptors as bookends for his average play, then by all means, start praying.

Andrea has been consistent over the last 10 games or so and he had a career night against the Bulls last time around. If the Raptors are able to get Andrea some good looks again and he is able to dominate inside like he did before, it could create more room for Bosh to take care of his end of things.

3 in the Key

1. Attack the Bulls. They do have some holes in their D and are often slow to rotate, so the Raptors need to be aggressive early.

2. Don’t take any Bull. I’m sorry (for the pun too), but you can’t have a rookie walk all over you twice.

3. Get hungry. The Bulls are trying for that last playoff spot too, so the Raptors cannot afford to be outhustled.

O’Nani ‘09

When this season began I had hoped the trio of bigs in Bosh, O’Neal, and Bargnani, could play like a modern day version of the Cackle Sisters. Mary Jane and Carolyn DeZurik performed at the Grand Ole Opry in the 30’s and 40’s. They incorporated bird calls into elaborate yodels that they sang in unison. When Mary Jane called it quits, Carolyn recruited the third DeZurik sister Lorraine and they just kept right on yodeling along. The same plan could have worked out well between the three guys at the 4/5 spots for the Raptors. The hope was to keep the same level of talent on the floor throughout every game, no matter which guy came out.

Unfortunately, the old scratchy recordings of the yodeling big-timers stand out more than anything the Raptors bigs have done this season. The sisters had a band playing behind them and there just hasn’t been much music to back up a good number of performances by all of CB4, JO and il Mago. When there has been a sense of some good rhythms happening though, it has been through the interplay of Bosh and Bargnani in the past month. And that has saved this season from being a complete disaster. At least there is a sense of what can truly be built upon with this team, and a big contract to move in order to fill out the band.

The best part of the story is that this team has a legitimate Center. The guy who insisted he was a 4, and able to play the 3, has found himself looking extremely comfortable at the 5 spot. He still hangs out behind the arc, but he does so much more than that now. He rebounds. He creates space. He offers directions to other players on the defensive end.  Remember when Garbajosa would play a little bit in the middle now and again? Bargnani offers a lot of what was missed when Jorge went down.  The pump-fakes are there. The smart use of angles. The knowing where to be with confidence. And he doesn’t have to play big the way Jorge did - he is big, and now he’s comfortable being big.

Bargnani could be the first verifiable Center with realizable potential on this team since Marcus Camby. There have been guys who were natural power fowards moved into that slot, and certainly some of them had success, but none of them were ever happy about it. Kevin Willis and Hakeem were clearly the real deals, but they were also both older than dirt. Montross was a degree above the average stiff, and he didn’t last long at all. Andrea could be the guy this team relies on for a long time to come.  I think he’s come to realise that.  I noticed him chewing his gum on the bench and offering a bit of an Elvis-type sneer at the end of one of many ugly games about a month ago. Jermaine was ending off the night with another failed post-up, and I thought maybe I could see in Bargnani’s eyes a certain recognition of his chance to make his mark. O’Neal banged up his knee the next game, and Bargnani took off from there.

Raptors Pistons Basketball

And there’s the good thing about the trade for JO if there’s anything to be found: the failure of this team, unlike last year, was not on Andrea’s shoulders at all. It doesn’t matter so much if he drives to the basket and fails to finish. This team has been weighed in the balance and found wanting, and the few sins that Bargnani might commit do not make the difference. But without JO here, that might not be an easy case to make. Certainly last season that kind of mental pressure that came with disappointing results likely hurt him. Now he has been able to seize a sense of his own importance on a team, which is something he clearly needs to gain confidence in himself, and he’s done so without having to bear the pressure that the team’s lack of success can bring. Both of those elements have allowed him to accept his role at the 5 and provide a few bright spots to a sad season. And it’s all thanks to the guy who changed his jersey number from 7 to 6 in a nice gesture to his big teammate upon his arrival. It would have been nice if JO could have solidified a few more changes aside from that number, and the need for a new coach, but at least through all the inability for this team to measure up to its promise, JO’s presence allowed for the big draft pick to measure up to what he was brought here for in his own right.  They tried to take a step forward, took two back instead, but now have a clearer pathway.

Andrea Bargnani still has to get better at finishing at the rim, getting every rebound he can, and adding a few more blocked shots. But the thing I look for in him the most for the rest of the way, is simply to not let up. He needs to show that he can be solid for a full year. This team has too many guys that go through long cold stretches and fall off the map for a month or so. Andrea needs to stay consistent after getting a bit of a pass for a rough stretch following the coaching change and the attempt to shoehorn him into the small forward spot. That probably means the end of O’Nani before O’Nani was ever even revealed. O’Neal needs to move on in order to give Bargnani the last half of the season on his own. And then at least there might be something to forward to next season at least.

Game 44: Raps vs. Pistons - Post-game

When you score 22 points in the first quarter and score less in each subsequent quarter, shoot less than 60% from the line and play D like you’re in an All-Star game, you’re just not going to win many games. That was pretty much the scenario tonight.

The Raptors limped into this game with an almost guaranteed loss weighing on them, with a short bench made shorter as Hump is out and Jake was a DNP-CD. Let’s not include Jawai as really being a part of the lineup yet. So that was essentially 8 guys out there playing against the Pistons, with one of them being a rustier than Sanford and Son’s Junk Truck JO. Those odds just weren’t going to work in the Raptors’ favour.

So tick, tick, tick, that’s officially the sound of a season blowing up as the Raptors hit their 7th straight loss. While things are not completely impossible, one would have to think that if this streak gets to 10, the Raptors will have then had the life sucked out of them. I think they may be able to avoid the double-digit streak as Sacramento is in the nine spot, but really, I don’t know if you put the Raptors up against Runnymede if they would come out on top right now.

It never fails to amaze me how the Raptors can continually come out of halftime looking so dead. Is Jose still handing out the Gatorade at halftime? What is going on in the locker room at halftime? You know JT goes into the half with a serious game plan that he wants executed for the second half, so what is it about the Raptors that no matter who the coach is, they just come out and lay an egg in the third quarter so often? It can’t be fatigue. You can’t come out of a 15 minute break and claim that you’re tired. Just seems a little strange to me.

Nice to see that Bosh’s calling out of Moon may have calmed Jamario down a bit, as he went 4-5 from the floor and took only 1 3-pointer (which he made), but on the defensive end, his head was on a swivel tonight, missing assignments like they were community college math courses. I guess you can’t ask for everything in one game. On the other side, Bosh had a decent game, but the Raptors were going to need something special from him in order to beat the Pistons and they just didn’t get it from him tonight.

Tick, tick, tick…

Game 44: Raps vs. Pistons - Pre-game

Well, if you call somebody out, in public, in front of the mics and cameras, you had better have a solid game next time out, because while the focus will be on the guy you called out, you will also have put the spotlight on yourself.

This is pretty much what Bosh can expect, the spotlight (however dull it might be…the Raptors are losers of six straight…this spotlight might have the equivalent wattage of the light bulb in an EasyBake Oven), yes, the spotlight will be on Bosh and Moon. Or Moon and Bosh. However you want to look at it, by letting Jamario know that his shot selection and his defence are lacking (seriously, when was the last time you heard a guy get called out on BOTH ends of the court?), Bosh needs to step up and show how it is done in this game. You can lead with your words any time you want, but the real leaders step up after that and lead by example. If the game comes down to a last second, hell, even last minute touch for Bosh, it better hadn’t be for 3.

Maybe Bosh’s whole strategy behind calling out Moon is that he just wants to create enough of a distraction from the team’s current losing streak so that they can focus on the task at hand while the media focuses on something other than them losing. It’s also a nice change to answer questions on calling somebody out than your standard “Is losing frustrating” line of questions that Bosh admittedly was growing tired of.

But, we can’t ignore that the Raptors are losers of six straight. We can’t ignore the fact that they regularly blow double digit leads. We can’t ignore the fact that in the last 2 minutes of games, they fall apart. It has all compounded into a mess that needs to be turned around not through just talking, but through the dedication required to make yourself and your team better. Each player on the Raptors roster (save for a couple) need to take a serious look at themselves and ask how they are contributing to the team.

Detroit might not be the same Detroit team there were in the past (they just broke a 5 game losing streak), but they’re no joke. They have seriously intimidating guard depth in Iverson, Stuckey and Hamilton. Prince and Wallace are putting up similarly strong numbers and Antonio McDyess is showing just how important rebounding is.

This is going to be tough, because the Raptors just don’t win in Detroit, but for the Raptors, things need to change. Let’s hope they can use the Obamamania to bring change for themselves…and a little Yes We Can to the court.

3 in the Key

1. If the Raptors can’t do a decent job rebounding, this game will be out of hand early.

2. Somebody is going to have to keep pace with Hamilton. He’s the hardest working guy in the league and he can just wear you out, so the Raptors will need to keep the legs fresh against him.

3. Get up and down the court. The Pistons have some quick guys, but they aren’t a quick team overall. There are opportunities to score if you can push the ball.

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