Archive for February, 2009

Game 57: Raptors vs. Knicks – Pre-game

Happy birthday Stephon Marbury. Just because I know what it’s like to be forgotten on your birthday, this one is for you. This one is for all the people back on Coney Island who remember you for what you were back in your high school days, an absolute stud. That’s all.

Okay, so on to the matchup. You have to wonder what the Knicks were thinking at the trade deadline. Picking up Larry Hughes, while losing Jerome James, Tim Thomas and Anthony Roberson seems like a positive, but overall, I’m not so sure. Hughes wasn’t going to be getting much playing time and didn’t want to be there, so the time and price was right for the Knicks. What makes me nervous is that Hughes doesn’t always have the best attitude and for a team that has had its share of attitudes in the past few years, I’m not sure if that’s something they really want to have to deal with again. Just when it looks like the Knicks are starting to go in the right direction, they make a deal that could send them right back where they came from.

I’m not sure what the point was of the Wilcox – Rose deal, as the contracts pretty much cancel each other out and are expiring at the end of the year. The move doesn’t really bring anything to either team, so you would have to wonder what the point was.

Hopefully, the Raptors will be able to take care of a Knicks team that is clearly in transition. I don’t know who is going to be in the Knicks lineup on Friday, but whether the new players will be on the court or not, the Raptors should be looking to get a quick upper hand, playing either a short bench or a team with no cohesion. Then again, that description kind of sounds like the Raptors, doesn’t it?

Last season, Jamal Crawford averaged 30.5 points in four games, including a 43-point performance at MSG in a win. The Raptors will have to get up on him, because he hasn’t been nearly as lethal putting the ball on the floor against the Raptors as he has been shooting it.

For the Raptors, we are probably going to see if they can handle some movement, as the new Knicks seem to be buying into D’Antoni’s run and gun style. They’re not putting up tons of points, but that’s simply because they don’t have the talent base there. It certainly hasn’t been because they aren’t pushing the ball up the floor.

The Raptors are going to need Andrea to wake up in this game and now that Marion has a little better idea who guys are on the team, I think he just might saw a few things to Bargs that will hopefully get the fire going inside of him. Now that Jermaine isn’t around to push Bargs, it is up to Andrea to have a few breakout games.

3 in the Key

1. Make the Knicksk try to beat you inside. The Raptors are quicker and have good enough D inside to make it difficult.

2. Run with the Knicks. The Raptors bench is short, but so is the Knicks. The faster they can get into that, the better.

3. Rebound. Marion showed some presence the other night, so let’s see what comes out of tonight.

Game 56: Raptors vs. Cavaliers – Post-game

Well, let’s be honest, it was really too much to expect the Raptors to beat the Spurs, go into the break, have a big trade and then come out and beat the Cavs without Bosh in the lineup.  There’s pulling off miracles and then there’s pulling off miracles.  Although even though the Raptors lost tonight, there were some positive signs from tonight’s game…and one negative thing that has become a constant for the Raptors.

Let’s start with the negative thing.  You know it.  The third quarter.   The third quarter has essentially become the giant meteor that comes flying out of the sky, making all dinosaurs extinct.  You can use the scoreboard halftime countdown as a sort of end of an era countdown, knowing when the timely death of the dinosaurs will happen.  Oh, have to get back to our seats, the dinosaurs are about to become extinct in 10…9…8…7…you get the point.  Seriously, what happens in that third quarter?  What gets the meteor flying in this direction?  The Raptors played a first half that wasn’t all that bad.  They went into the break down six points with Big Z essentially dominating, but outside of that, they weren’t being outplayed and led for a good chunk of the first quarter.  I am at a complete loss of words when trying to explain what happens to them at halftime.  Maybe the Raptors get the bad shipments of Gatorade, the discounted ones because they were found to have bromine or something in them.   When JT is let go at the end of the season (and offered another position within the organization), the poor dude who comes in to coach will have to figure out what the deal with the third quarter is.

This is going to sound a little ridiculous, but while almost allowing LBJ a triple-double, the Raptors did a pretty good job of shutting him down.  They were able to limit him to 20 points, which all things considered, isn’t too bad.  The problem the Raptors had tonight was that they were outworked and Big Z contributed for the Cavs, giving them that extra dimension.  While it is still early and there were clearly some plays where Marion was blown by on the first step of the James Express, but overall, Marion and AP did a good job of keeping things relatively under control.

The Raptors needed a night from Bargs and he just wasn’t anywhere to be found.  He only had 11 points and now that JO is gone, he should realize that he is the big man option the Raptors have been banking their future on.  I still believe that is a good bargain, but Bargain Bargs needs to provide some sort of consistency.  If Bargs isn’t able to come up with some solid games and contribute on both ends of the court, then as I mentioned earlier, things aren’t going to change anything.

Game 56: Raptors vs. Cavaliers – Pre-game

Well, the most secretive trade ever happened over the break, as the Raptors finally unloaded JO and Jamario to the Heat for Marion and Banks. Much has been said about who actually won this trade and for me, there are so many variables, it’s a toss-up. What’s important for the Raptors right now is whether or not Marion is going to be the key to getting them into the playoffs.

That march to the playoffs starts with a contest against King James and the Cavs, which is going to put the Raptors to the test right off the bat. After having some time to get accustomed to things in Toronto, this will be a good opportunity to see how Marion’s defensive game is going to change things for the Raptors. While the Raptors have lost JO’s interior presence, they have gained an overall better defender who can get out on the perimeter. There’s a good chance we will see a lot of Marion on James, which AP will welcome as he has been doing a yeoman’s work covering big player after big player.

The word is that with Marion, the Raptors are going to be playing a more uptempo style, which I will believe when I see it. If there is one thing that has become more apparent this year with Jose running the show, it is that he prefers the half-court setup, something that Marion hated in Miami. If Marion sees the same sort of offense taking place in Toronto, he might end up just as frustrated as he was in Miami.

While the Raptors may want to push the ball, they will need to be careful not to force things as Varejao and Williams are in the top rankings for taking charges, with Varejao first. How many of the ones Varejao takes that are actually fouls has yet to be determined (FLOP). Get ready Mop Girl, you’re going to be busy. Varejao is in town!

The time off was good for Jose and his hamstring problems and he is going to have a good test against the Cavs as Mo Williams showed just before the All-Star break why his double-All-Star-snub (and then eventual fill-in for Bosh) was a joke. Williams dropped 44 points against Phoenix, showing up Nash and the rest of the Suns. Tie’em up tight Jose.

So with all of the Marion-O’Neal talk, we have to remember to focus on Bargs. Part of the reason that JO became expendable was the development of Bargs this year, especially when JO went down with injury. It will be important for him to continue his strong play and become a consistent option down the floor. If he isn’t able to produce points and play D with JO gone, the Raptors could be in for a rough stretch.

Game 55: Raptors vs. Spurs – Post-game

Miracle: mir?a?cle /?m?r?k?l/ [mir-uh-kuhl]

–noun 1. an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.
2. such an effect or event manifesting or considered as a work of God.
3. a wonder; marvel.
4. a wonderful or surpassing example of some quality: a miracle of modern acoustics.

Any of those could pretty much sum up what we saw from the Raptors tonight in a win over the Spurs. It’s not just that the Raptors were able to beat one of the best teams in the NBA, but they were able to do it without Bosh, Calderon and for a good chunk of the game, Joey Graham, who has been one of their better players of late.

To state that what took place at the ACC tonight was a miracle isn’t really stretching the truth that much. Let’s keep in mind that we saw Roko Ukic come up with the game of his life, where he not only did the things we know he could do (penetrate, use his speed), but all of a sudden, the kid was hitting shots from outside like he has been doing it in the NBA for a few seasons now.

The Raptors were able to use their speed to beat the Spurs, getting up and down the court and exposing what at times looked like what I suspected…a team that isn’t as quick as people think they are. On offense, Parker and Ginobili showed that they have those quick cuts and moves that can tear teams apart, but on the defensive end, neither of them looked like they were into the game.

So now the Raptors head into the All-Star break with what can be considered a decent end to the “first half” of the season. If there was ever a place to start afresh, this would be it. Hopefully, the Raptors can take a look at what they have done in the past few games and turn that into something positive down the stretch. Could these be the two games that propel the Raptors into a playoff drive? I guess we will have to wait and see. For now, they can just be happy for the rest.

Game 55: Raptors vs. Spurs – Pre-game

When Manu Ginobili starts posterizing guys on dunks, you really have to start worrying about the Spurs.  It’s bad enough that you have to worry about this guy flopping all over the place, cutting in and out, making great passes, etc., but when Manu starts throwing down on you, well, the flood gates are open.

Keep in mind that Tim Duncan has been playing like his usual self lately and you have a Spurs team that is going to be tough to beat. Duncan has been playing like a man who wants people to remember that his team shouldn’t be forgotten in the championship conversations and his supporting cast has been helping him write his speech.

Roger Mason Jr. (the Raptor killer) and Matt Bonner have settled into their roles and are playing fantastic basketball for the Spurs. Against the Celtics a couple of nights ago, Bonner had 23 points and 8 rebounds and played some impressive D as the Spurs dropped the champs.

The Raptors are coming off a win over the Wolves, which really wouldn’t be much to talk about during any season, but remember, this is the 2008-09 version of the Raptors we are talking about and wins just aren’t that common this season. The Raptors had their share of troubles against the Wolves, but they were finally able to at least come out with a win, something they sorely needed. I wouldn’t really call it momentum, but for the Raptors, at least they have something to try to use as a springboard.

What you have to like about the Raptors last win is that they didn’t quit, something we have seen them do lately more than we would like. The Raptors could have easily packed up and laid down for the Wolves after blowing a lead and then allowing a 15-0 run in the second quarter, but they managed to find a way to stay in the game and pull out a win. They aren’t going to be able to blow a lead or fall behind against the Spurs, so hopefully JT will be able to get that through their heads before the game.

3 in the Key

1. Don’t give Mason space to get going with his shot. He has proven that he likes to play the Raptors (who doesn’t?) and the Raptors can’t afford to let him get hot. Force him to put the ball on the floor.

2. Run. Even with Parker and Ginobili, the Spurs still aren’t the quickest team around, so the Raptors would be best advised to try to push the ball as much as possible.

3. Transition D. With the Spurs pulling down boards and Parker with his usual wizardry, the Raptors will have to make sure they aren’t caught standing around.

Game 54: Raptors vs. Timberwolves – Post-game

Tonight’s win over the Wolves was sort of a microcosm of the Raptors season, but with a win at the end instead of another loss. The Raptors managed to get out to a double digit lead, blow that lead, fall in love with the jump shot (ignoring the inside presence), fall behind, have their big man get frustrated with a lack of touches, come back and then almost fall apart, but somehow manage to come out with the win. We’ve seen most of this before…just not the win part.

Going back to our 3 in the Key, we said that the Raptors were going to need some shooting from AP and Kapono and while AP didn’t have a game to remember (let’s blame it on his injured pinky finger…), Kapono came out shooting and poured in 18 in 22 minutes, helping the Raptors secure the win.

What the Raptors were able to do for certain stretches of time was run the court effectively. The Wolves looked either too slow or completely disinterested in getting back on D and when the Raptors were able to get out quickly off a rebound, they were able to exploit Minnesota’s lazy defence for some easy transition points.

The key to the Raptors being able to get out and score points in transition was their ability to outrebound their opponent, something that we don’t see the Raptors do very often. The Raptors were able to grab rebounds and get a quick outlet pass, allowing Jose to push the ball upcourt, resulting in not only easy layups, but also open looks on jumpers.

But as we’ve said before, while the streak was broken tonight, a win is nothing if you can’t back it up with another and that is going to be tough for the Raptors who have to face the Spurs tomorrow night. Savour tonight boys, because tomorrow is going to be a real test.

On Human Suffering

Let me take you back to last Saturday. Yeah – it seems like a cruel trick. We’re all trying to forget. Why even think about it?  I don’t know. Why not pick the scab off that wound?

I missed the game. Really. It was Saturday night. 8pm. I had TSN on, and I was so magnificently pleased at not having to watch TSN2 on my computer. And then my wife decided that her infected middle finger might explode if it was not seen to. There was no choice in the matter, we were off to emerg. And Saturday night is really the only night you want to spend in emerg. I would have to record the game and head out.

And oh what I was able to experience. I got to sit next to a crackhead who claimed he had spent the night running into oncoming traffic in order to commit suicide. His breathing was reminiscent of Darth Vader as a colicky baby. He took his shoes off to reveal socks covered in odd greeen stains. He started up with funny little giggles at random moments. He nonchalantly replied to all the doctor’s questions, offered up the details as to how he’s done it all before, and I somehow tuned out his answer to the question “what is it we can do for you?”. So far I might as well have been at the ACC right?

Well where it really gets bad is down a little further from the crackhead where a couple of moaning drunks and a women in a wheelchair faking a TTC-induced injury provided a microcosm in nihilistic ugliness. The drunks were trying to make the best of things, but they were “coming down hard”, and they weren’t going to be seen to anytime soon. The woman in the wheelchair offered up her tale of woe to these two, and there wasn’t a tragedy she had not seen. But worse than that, she clearly was making everything up, and she clearly made it a night at emerg on a regular basis. For one thing she knew the phone number for the patient representative by heart. She stuck her nose in everybody’s business and worked on everyone in attempts to turn them against the nurses and doctors. She felt entitled to constantly sling abuse towards the staff. And when they insisted on simply ignoring her, she loudly called the patient rep and proclaimed that all of us present were being denied treatment.

I began to chant “ATTICA! ATTICA! ATTICA!” in my own head while playing scrabble on my iPod.

When security finally arrived to inform her that her abusive behavior could not be tolerated, she flipped out on the on “big black dude”, because she “had been beaten up by big black dudes”. She wouldn’t allow the black nurse to touch her, spinning herself into our little corner and cowering like a dog. What a headcase. Of course her x-rays came back negative and she wheeled herself off somewhere else to try and stir up lawsuits and rebellion. The drunks kept moaning about coming down hard, until they finally got what they needed, drifted off to sleep, and snored loud enough to drown out the code blue alarms.

My wife got an IV of antibiaotics for her finger six hours after we arrived, and then had to wait longer to see if there was any reaction.  The crackhead had bolted while she was being treated, and needed to be run down by the chipper staff.  The snoring continued. Until we finally were able to leave.

When we got back home I started watching the game and realized that I had been one of the lucky ones.  And I guess if there’s any point to this it is that we are maybe all “coming down hard” right now.  For myself, I’m not entirely sure I will ever get the kind of fix I once did with this game.  I remember the great Bill “Spaceman” Lee applying Marx’s comments about the opiate of the masses to baseball instead of religion. And I wonder about the suffering that we feel when those opiates do not take effect. Is it suffering, or just something almost as pathetic as drunks, crackheads, and ignorant fakers in a hospital built for the purpose of easing actual suffering, and filled with many actual cases of tragic circumstances?  It provided me with a little perspective. I mean any suffering this season of hell might bring is really just on me.  I am probably not alone in looking to relieve myself of some of the everyday grief that living brings, but not finding that relief in the narcotic effects of some decent basketball does not provide any real equivalent to the enormous human suffering that ripples out beyond our generally comfortable lives. It’s just a game, and hurling abuse at Chris Bosh, or Bryan Colangelo, or Doug Smith, or Sam Mitchell, or TSN, or James Naismith himself does not make it anything more or less than just a game. Let’s hope we can get our fix fixed. But if not, let’s not be faking any injuries.

Game 54: Raps vs. Timberwolves – Pre-game

Well, I may have said this before, which would make it completely awkward that I am saying it again, but it certainly can’t get any worse than last game. Really. It would take a concerted effort to shoot less than 30% again, especially against the Wolves. Especially against the Wolves minus Jefferson. The good thing for the Raptors is that they understand the horrible state they are in right now. Cue the quote from Andrea: “We have to start winning because we are playing very bad.” YES! Thanks Andrea, for that insightful sound bite. Yes, you have to start winning because you are playing very bad[ly], people have to carry an umbrella tomorrow because it is going to rain, most of us will have to eat because we will be hungry and I will need to go to the washroom tomorrow when I feel the urge. But yes, the Raptors do need to win because they are playing bad[ly]. Thanks.

The Raptors have owned the Wolves of late, winning 8 straight, but in all reality, that goes completely out the window right now. The Raptors don’t own anybody right now. They don’t even own their own thoughts. The Wolves aren’t too far off the Raptors as far as records go and they have Kevin Love playing some tough basketball, pulling down rebounds like nobody’s business. Since the start of the new year, in 25 minutes, he is averaging 12.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and is shooting over 53%. Those are some quality numbers.

But let’s not get carried away with the Wolves just yet. Let’s remember that this team is in just as much of a mess as the Raptors are. Remember, this is a team that signed Rafael Araujo, then released him a couple of weeks later, as if what they saw of his previous “work” in the NBA wasn’t evidence enough. I guess they just had to see it for themselves, like he was a tube of Didi-7. They just couldn’t believe he was that bad, so they had to bring him in house just to make sure. I’ll stop now, because even though they did that, they still didn’t take him with their first pick, 8th overall.

Another positive for the Raptors is that the Wolves give up a lot of points. Without Bosh in the lineup, the Raptors are going to have to get their scoring from elsewhere and playing the Wolves will help that cause. Put that along with no Jefferson on the court and we are talking business. Could this be the game where we see Jason Kapono keep the fourth quarter from the last game rolling into this one? Will we see him get hot right before the All-Star break? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

3 in the Key

1. The Raptors can’t afford to get beaten on the boards against the Wolves. They just can’t.

2. JK and AP will need to find some range to complement what should be a decent game inside for the Raptors.

3. Run the court. The Raptors need to exploit some of the holes in the Wolves lineup that not having Brewer and Jefferson will present.

Game 53: Raps vs. Grizzlies – Post-game

Sorry for the lack of a post game against the Hornets or a pre-game for this one, but come to think of it, it’s actually good that I didn’t get around to doing the pre-game for this one, because IT WOULD HAVE BEEN AN ABSOLUTE WASTE OF TIME.

Seriously, what the hell was that? First, I was surprised to even see the game on, since I decided I wasn’t heading out to a pub to watch it and then when checking our message board here, saw that the game was being moved from TSN2 to TSN. So I had a nice surprise and settled in to watch something quite below mediocrity. That was embarrassing. It was like watching two geeks fight in the schoolyard. No damage was really being done by either guy, it wasn’t really entertaining, in the end you guess somebody won, but you walk away feeling cheated of some entertainment and you suddenly feel like beating somebody yourself.

First, let’s start with Jason Kapono. Outside of the 4th quarter, this guy has been shooting like he has never played the game before. His elbows are all over the place, he’s off balance, he’s going catch-and-shoot on everything. I like that he’s not shying away from shooting, because unlike say, a guy like Jamario Moon, I’m okay with a real shooter trying to shoot away his woes (and I guess he did by the 4th), but Jesus man, look like you have a clue.

You would have to think that with the Raptors looking absolutely miserable and JO continuing to play well (throw out tonight’s game), BC just might have his hand forced. I don’t think BC is the kind of guy who gets pressured into things, but with JO playing some solid ball (again, throw out tonight’s game) with not a lot of support, you would have to think that a few teams are starting to wonder if he could be that piece to secure a championship for them. As for the Raptors, things can’t get a whole lot worse right now and there comes a point when you have to start thinking about that fateful decision: this season or next?

When a team can run Darko out there for almost 20 minutes on you and still win, you have issues. This is the essential litmus test. The Grizz ran Darko out there for 20 minutes, he went 1-7 and 0-2 from the line, pretty much Darko kind of stuff. But then again, let’s look at some of the Raptors:

Bargs: 30 minutes, 1-11
AP: 40 minutes, 2-10
JO: 32 minutes, 2-9

The list goes on, but really, the Raptors can’t afford that kind of ineptitude, especially with Bosh out of the lineup. When you have a short bench, a PG who isn’t going to be at 100% for a while and your star player out of the lineup, you can’t shoot 29% and expect to win. Hell, you can’t shoot below 30% on ANY night and expect to win. The tough part to handle about this game is that the 30% was achieved with not a lot of contested shots. The Raptors had more than enough good looks on the night, they “just weren’t hitting shats” to quote Sam.

So yes, in a season that has had it’s share of lows, mark a new one for the Raptors. The losing continues and so does the way in which they do it.

Game 52: Raps vs. Hornets – Pre-game

Sometimes, when things are going a little rough for your team, you need to have a few breaks go your way. You need to come up against a team that is in a funk, is having some injury problems, just a team who is in worse shape than you. Unfortunately for the Raptors, they are that team…and the Hornets are just one of the many teams in better shape (literally and figuratively) than they are.

The Hornets come into this game losers of four straight (misery LOVES company…Toronto, welcome to New Orleans!) and without Chris Paul, who is sidelined with a groin injury. If you’re New Orleans, that is the one injury you don’t want to hear your point guard having…well, either that or a hamstring problem. Luckily (or maybe not) for the Raptors, it looks like Calderon is going to play, while Bosh probably won’t.

The bad thing for the Raptors is that they are still going to have to find a way to stop David West (I’ll say it again), one of my favourite players to watch. West is a tough dude who also has a nice touch. He knows how to create space for himself by using his body and also has some speed. It’s good to see him as an All-Star and the Raptors are going to have to come up with some All-Star performances on D to stop him.

But here’s the real question. Which Raptors team is going to show up? Is it the team that has basically been laying down for the opposition lately? Is it the team that shuts down before the first half is even over? Is it the team who realizes the third quarter has started by the time the fourth is about to end? Or will we see the Raptor team that pulled together and played some solid ball against the Lakers? Will we see the team who realized that when they move the ball and play tough inside, they can actually get some damage done? Well, I guess no better place than New Orleans to figure out which team will be present…the real one or the one with the mask.

3 in the Key

1. It is going to be tough enough to stop David West inside, so don’t let Peja start raining from outside too.

2. Certainly don’t let Peja and guys like Antonio start walking down the lane uncontested.

3. Joey and JO need to keep the intensity up and get ready to lay a little hurt down if necessary.