Archive for March, 2009

Game 68: Raptors vs. Bobcats – Pre-game

Well, I guess we have to go back a long way to see what the Raptors did against the Bobcats last time around. In one of the stranger scheduling bumps, the Raptors are playing the second half of a home and home with three days rest in between. Then again, after the pathetic performance we saw Monday, they might have needed those three days to give the search party enough time to find some game for them.

I was watching Raptors TV last night and in an interview at practice, some of the media guys were asking AP about whether or not the team still thinks they can make the playoffs. It was almost painful having to watch him answer the question, as obviously, he didn’t want to come out and say, “IS YOU CRAZY?” but at the same time, he didn’t want to make it sound like the team thought everything was sailing along just fine. He gave the usual speech about taking it one game at a time and that anything can happen, so he said all of the right things, but you could see it in his face.

To tell you the truth, writing pre-games for games like this one (where you just got whupped by a team that is slightly better than you, but not good enough to beat you like they did) is a tough thing to do. It’s tough because it is so easy to just say, “Yeah, all of that stuff you did in the last game? Well, do the opposite.” The Raptors had so many leaks in that game, it didn’t even matter if they were able to plug one, because others just opened.

The one big difference from the last game to this one is that the Bobcats hero from the last game, Gerald Wallace, suffered what looked like a season ending injury the other night.? It turned out that he only has a bruise, which may limit some of his explosiveness and if it does, then that only works in the Raptors favour.? If you can keep Gerald Wallace from attacking the basket with the same sort of authority, then you definitely have something working in your favour.? It will be important for the Raptors to realize that some of the other Bobcats are going to be stepping it up, because they know Wallace is hurting, but also because they can almost taste the playoffs and games against teams like the Raptors are the ones they need to take.

3 in the Key

1. The Raptors are going to have to get out to a quick start.? If they get down early, it will be tough to get over that as it will bring back memories of Monday night.

2. Pressure Wallace.? The Raptors need to find out just what that injury is all about.? Is it more serious than he is letting on?? Is it going to slow him down?? Find out early.

3. Andrea needs to get that inside-outside game going in order to expose some of Okafor’s weaknesses.

Game 67: Raptors vs. Bobcats – Post-game

Not even the luck of the Irish can put together a couple of wins for the Raptors. I guess all of the luck was used up in the pasting of the Pacers on Sunday, as the Raptors just weren’t in this one at all tonight.

Make no mistake about it, the Raptors got taken to the woodshed tonight. The Bobcats were throwing ally-oops, dunking inside, dropping jumpers, they were pretty much playing with a relative ease, the kind of thing you see at an all-star game (once again, just without the all-stars). If you wanted to see a team that has officially packed things in and called it a season, then all you had to do was watch the Raptors tonight.

Not even Pops could save the Raptors with some energy tonight (and to Doug Smith…shut down Pops and offer up a secret two year deal? That was a joke, right? I mean, I’m impressed by what he has done so far and like that he has found a niche, but you’re joking, right?). The only player who seemed to have some real energy tonight, especially on the boards was Bosh, who picked up 14 boards in another double-double night (18 points).

There was more than one occasion tonight where I saw Shawn Marion start trotting back on D before a shot had even rimmed out. In the 3rd quarter, Bargs took a jumper that looked like it was going to be a bit heavy and when it was, there was Marion already heading back on D instead of fighting for a board. He didn’t have to be boxed out, because he was already out of the postal code (or zip code since this one was in Charlotte). That’s not the kind of effort that is going to endear a team to a guy, although from all accounts, he doesn’t want to be back in Toronto anyway.

So after another pathetic performance, the Raptors have a few days off to see if they can find a chant or some sort of magical spell to bring them some real consistency. As a fan, this is getting really tough to watch.

Game 67: Raptors vs. Bobcats – Pre-game

Coming off a big win over the Pacers, the Raptors will hope to continue to abuse the luck of the Irish as much as possible. I figure, hey, St. Patty’s isn’t until Tuesday, so the Raptors are full within their rights to wear the lucky green jerseys again on Monday, no? Hell, wear them for the rest of the season if it means they can come up with some more wins. I’m not thinking playoffs, but honestly, it’s just nice to see a win every once in a while. It mixes things up.

So while I am in the mood for making comments about uniforms, let me remind you that the Raptors are playing the Bobcats, whose uniforms and logo are ridiculous, especially for a relatively new team. Now that I have that out of my system, let’s get on with things.

The Bobcats are at least moving in the right direction. They’re 5 wins ahead of the Raptors and have a decent mix of scoring and defense. They have a coach who understands the game, but realistically, who knows if he is just going to up and quit at any moment he feels like it (or if a better opportunity presents itself). The Raptors have already taken two from the Bobcats this season, so the chance to sweep them is there if they are able to pick up a win here and then again on the 20th, but let’s not go crazy. This is a Raptors team that more often than not, disappoints.

If there is one thing the Raptors should have learned from their win over the Pacers, it’s that when you are able to hold teams under 100 points, you have a better chance of winning. I know, it almost sounds like a stupid thing to say, but it really becomes crystal clear when you look at the Raptors this year.

The Raptors should also all be taking note of the effort that is coming from the man simply known as Pops. Sure, there is a little bit of over-hype going on with Pops, but come on, the city is starving for anything right now. If there is something the fans of Toronto love, no matter what the sport, it is a guy who goes out and hustles, isn’t afraid to get dirty and shows a love for the game. Think about it. There weren’t many guys more loved in the Blue Jays organization than Reed Johnson (when he was around). Leaf fans are still in love with Dougie. Argo fans will always love Pinball. Possibly one of the best loved Raptors was JYD. It just vibes with the city.

The Raptors are going to have to be careful that they don’t sleep on anybody in this game, because the Bobcats have some balanced scoring in their lineup. Six times this season, the lineup of Boris Diaw, Gerald Wallace, Emeka Okafor, Raja Bell and Raymond Felton has created a scenario where each player was in double figures. The team overall has done it eight times. It almost looks like they are starting to gel, starting to figure things out a bit more.

The Raptors are going to have to play some good D, pulling down boards and then make sure that the offence turns defensive stops into offensive points. Like I said, I’m not thinking about the playoffs, but to quote Nuke Laloosh, “Winning, it’s like, better than losing.”

3 in the Key

1. The Raptors can’t let Boris Diaw get going from behind the arc. He could put them in a hole early if he gets into one of his moods.

2. Keep feeding the bigs. Bosh and Bargs have been playing well together, with Bargs showing some toughness. Keep it going in there.

3. Hustle on the boards. Pops and Joey need to continue to demonstrate the hustle needed to win.

Game 66: Raptors vs. Pacers – Post-game

RAPTORS WIN! RAPTORS WIN! RAPTORS WIN! Mark this day in history, RAPTORS WIN! Okay, now that I have that out of my system, there were a couple of things that really impressed me today. So let’s get on with that and leave (most of) the silly stuff here.

If there was ever a guy making the most of an opportunity, it would have to be Pops. Look at his line today. Seriously, take the time right now to go and check out his line. 22 minutes, 21 points, 8 rebounds and 11-13 from the line (and you know how much I preach about hitting free throws if you are going to play inside). Now THAT is a game. But as I’ve mentioned before, it’s not like Pops is trying to reinvent the wheel in there. He’s hustling and getting tough on the boards. He’s active and isn’t afraid to get a little dirty for the ball. That is going to lead to some more trips to the line, which we saw today. He has found a nice little niche that needed to be filled and is fitting in quite nicely.

Also, let’s give it up for Andrea’s performance today. What I liked about his play today wasn’t even so much that he chalked up 27 points and just missed a double-double with 9 boards, it’s that he did it coming off of the flu (and who knows if he is really still 100%). I know, it’s not like he’s out there playing with a broken leg, but seriously, think of the last time you had the flu. Think about how horrible you felt, how you barely had enough energy to get from your bed to the toilet and then to the couch. Even when you were good enough to go back to work or school, you still didn’t feel like doing anything, right? Now imagine you are playing in the NBA as a big man. Okay, now you understand why I am giving him some praise here. Andrea is showing that he does have some toughness, even if he is never going to be the kind of player who goes in knocking guys over. He made a statement today.

I’m also going to give it up for Joey today. Joey had a rough time shooting the ball today. There’s no other way to say it. The dude was 0-7 from the field and it was an ugly 0-7. But here’s why I’m giving it up for Joey. He didn’t let his bad shooting day stop him from picking up 10 boards. That’s what it means to be a professional. When you can not let one part of your game curse another part, when you are able to block things out and keep hustling, that shows your dedication to the game. So it was nice to see something like that coming from a team that has all sorts of problems.

On the negative side, the Raptors showed again that for some reason, Troy Murphy gives them problems. He didn’t light it up, but he did post a double-double and he probably would have had more points if the Pacers had given him some more touches.

Overall, a nice way to end the losing skid and a great way for the rest of us to start the work week.

Game 66: Raptors vs. Pacers – Pre-game

So I guess today’s game could be billed as a battle of the teams who are just disillusioned enough to think that they still have a shot at the playoffs. Well, at least the Pacers still have what can be termed as an outside shot of making it, but the Raptors? If Raptors fans are still thinking about the playoffs, I hope they’re talking about the Leafs, not the Raptors…and you know how much I hate the Leafs.

There is a chance that Danny Granger could return to the lineup for the Pacers, who have been without his services for about a month and for the Raptors sake, let’s hope that he isn’t able to return today. The last thing the Raptors need right now is a team still trying to make the playoffs getting an emotional and physical boost from the return of one of their more exciting players.

If you still care about the TJ/Jose thing, then you’re officially an idiot, but both players are playing well right now (although Jose is still not 100% in my opinion). Ford lit up the Hawks Friday night, scoring 29 with 5 assists. It was classic Ford, making cuts and hitting the lane with reckless abandon. It would be nice to see both players play at the top of their games today, just because in the two previous games, we haven’t had the luck of seeing it happen.

In the last 41 games, the Pacers have had 15 in which at the end of regulation the two teams were separated by no more than three points, which might not bode well for the Raptors, who just don’t seem to have the mental toughness to close anything out that is close. We saw it again against the Pistons on Friday night, the Raptors went into overtime and couldn’t pull out a win again, although you have to give them some credit for battling a tough opponent. If this game comes down to the wire, will the Raptors be able to use some muscle to ensure a win? Hopefully, they will be able to take care of Roy Hibbert, who has been playing well lately on the glass. Let’s also hope that they are able to take care of Troy Murphy, who for some reason, they always seem to have some problems with.

3 in the Key

1. Attack the rookie. If Andrea is healthy, the Raptors will need him to go at Hibbert, over whom he has an athletic advantage. Andrea needs to get Hibbert into early foul trouble.

2. Don’t let TJ start getting to the paint. If you can keep TJ outside, then you really don’t have to worry so much about him, but if he starts cutting to the paint, he could have one of those afternoons.

3. Close it out. If it is close down the stretch, the Raptors should have enough options to be able to close one out against the Pacers, even though the Pacers have a better record.

Game 65: Raptors vs. Pistons – Post-game

Sometimes it is just a great thing to watch one of your favourite players play. There aren’t many guys in the league I like to watch more than Rip Hamilton and to see him put up 24 and then also drop a career high 16 assists was a thing of beauty…just not for the Raptors.

You have to give it up for the Raptors, they came to play and took the Pistons to OT, but I don’t think there is a person out there who really thought they were going to pull it out over the Pistons in OT. There is just something about confidence and mental toughness that the Raptors don’t have that had me pretty confident that they just weren’t going to win it tonight, even though the Pistons have been having a pretty rough season by their standards.

Chris Bosh had another solid game, but you could see from his post-game comments that this season has him at a snapping point. When asked if he was getting frustrated with this season and this loss (a 7th in a row) he said, “Frustrated? Stop using that word, frustrating…Jesus Christ, where do you all get that word. Use another word. You all got a thesaurus around? I’m not upset. You compete, you play the game, you play to win. If you come up short, then that’s what it is. Nobody is frustrated around here.” And from that little snippet, he…um…sounds…frustrated, or sorry, disappointed, discontented, discouraged, disheartened and possibly even embittered.

So as the losing continues and Raptors fans count down the number of games left in the season, the Raps will roll into Indiana to face a team that has its own troubles on and off the court as rumours are swirling that the economy might force the team to move. This is one the Raptors should have a chance to pull out, but then again, there have been a lot of games this season the Raptors should have pulled out. Sigh…

Game 65: Raptors vs. Pistons – Pre-game

Even though the Pistons have lost their last two by inexplicably blowing double digit leads, I would still consider them to be pretty hot. Before those two losses, the Pistons had won 4 straight and Rip Hamilton was back starting and running the show. Another one of my favourite players, Hamilton has stamina for days and along with Iverson, could be the guy who works the hardest in the league at creating opportunities for himself. With the amount of running he does, you would think that he would switch out of his basketball shoes and put on a pair of Saucony’s.

The main problem for the Raptors going into this game (and really, you can choose from what is becoming an ever increasing list of problemes) is that the Raptors do not have anybody who can run with Rip all game. The Raptors D right now is embarrassing and when they have somebody like Hamilton running around out there, a lot of holes are going to open up. The Raptors have not been hustling on D and if that has been exposed by some of the recent teams they have played, a team with Rip in the lineup is going to magnify where any of the issues are. It won’t be tough to see why the Raptors have gien up over 113 points per game during this losing streak.

But let’s not put all of the focus on Rip. Tayshaun Prince loves playing against the Raptors and you would if you were him too. Prince is shooting 72% from the field against the Raptors this season and has proven to be a major problem for the Raptors D. With the Pistons’ depth being questioned lately, you would have to think that Tayshaun is going to see a lot of the ball, which is bad news for the Raps.

Well, when Shawn Marion called out the Raptors a few weeks ago, they responded with some better play, so when Pops calls a team out…well, what can we really hope for? Some of the guys on the team probably still don’t even know who Pops is. But Pops is right and you have to commend a guy who just joins a team and isn’t afraid to make his voice heard. Pops thinks guys are dogging it and he just came out and said it. Good for him. Now as far as anyone responding, well, we’ll have to see.

3 in the Key

1. There are going to be two focal points, Prince and Hamilton. The Raptors are going to have to be ready to do some hard work on D to keep up with these guys.

2. The Raptors will need to attack early and try to draw some fouls. The Pistons don’t have the most depth around, so the faster you can get to their bench, the better.

3. Can we find some consistent minutes for Roko in this game? It can’t end with a result any worse than what anybody is expecting.

Game 64: Raptors vs. 76ers – Post-game

Typically, when the Raptors lose, there are some common factors. They usually come out and stink it up in the third quarter; their D disappears for long stretches, they don’t have a complete team performance; they aren’t able to string together any runs…the list goes on. So it was kind of funny (there I go with that whole Schadenfreude thing again) to see the Raptors get lit up in the second quarter, but then come back with their own strong third quarter (offensively), only to have it checked by an abysmal defensive third quarter. I mean, that’s just…well, awesome. Things are so bad right now that even when they are good, they’re still bad.

One of the big things with me when it comes to sports is having pride. You have to have a bit of an ego. Some swagger. So when you have a guy fighting the flu (Bargs) come out and lead your team in scoring against a team who doesn’t like to play D, then you have to take a look in the mirror and ask yourself if you really did all you could to win on that given night. I mean, Bargs is out there ready to upchuck on the court at any minute, he’s probably feeling pretty weak and yet he is able to lead the Raptors and did it coming out strong from the opening tip. A lot of guys should be ashamed of themselves tonight.

How does Chris Bosh get blocked so often? I mean, seriously, how does it happen to him as often as it does? Is it because he brings the ball back down after a rebound? Is he telegraphing his moves? Does he have a slow release? Is it all of the above? I’m a Bosh fan, so the fact that I’m finding something like this to criticize him on is kind of strange, but it just seems to me that for a guy his size with his kind of athleticism, he shouldn’t be getting blocked as often as he does.

Oh, can I talk about Pops again? THE Role Player? 17 minutes, another 8 boards, made use of 5 fouls and picked up a few points as a bonus. I love a guy who knows what his role is on a team and executes on it. Here’s a guy who is just looking for a solid paycheque and knows that if he focuses on one thing, he might be able to find a home in Toronto. Yes, it’s still early, but I really like what I see from him. Focused effort. The Raptors could use some more of that.

Game 64: Raptors vs. 76ers – Pre-game

This is where the latest losing streak ends, right? Right? How many losing streaks of at least 5 games is it now? 4? 5? Ah jeez, does it really even matter anymore? Did it matter in the first place? If a tree falls in a forest and nobody…ah, forget it.

The Raptors roll into Philly as one of the few teams who are currently playing worse than Philly, which is tough to do. Even though the Sixers are 7th in the East and look like they are going to be playoff bound, they are losers of 7 of their last 10. So once again I ask, “This is where the Raptors end the losing skid, right?” The Raptors should be able to beat a team that could only score 50 points in 3 quarters against OKC, right?

If the Raptors can avoid giving up 100 points for the 9th game in a row, then they might actually have a shot at beating the Sixers. Philly gives up over 96 points a game, so there are definitely some holes in the D, possibly a lot of which can be attributed to the injuries they have had to deal with this season, but also because they just don’t have that strong of a defensive team. But which Raptors team are we going to come out and see? Is it the Raptors team that likes to run the floor and score points or are we going to see the Raptors half-court team, the one that slows everything down, including how often they score?

I’m saying the Raptors will have to try to run and gun against the Sixers, but it is going to take some solid rebounding to beat Philly. You can talk all you want about running or playing the half-court, but if the Raptors aren’t able to get some rebounds against the Sixers, things are going to be tough. Maybe a little more time for Pops? I mean, at this point in the season, why the hell not? There sure isn’t any Snap and Crackle around here…(man, sorry…that was brutal).

3 in the Key

1. Take a lead into the fourth quarter. Philly is 22-10 when leading or tied through three quarters of play this season, so the Raptors can’t get into that situation.

2. Rebound, rebound, rebound.

3. Limit turnovers. The Sixers are going to give you enough opportunity to score, so don’t try to force things.

Game 63: Raptors vs. Jazz – Post-game

I think the funniest thing about today’s loss (and you do have to find the funny things in losses when the team you love loses this much) was that Bosh got a technical for a foul that he really should have taken in the first place. Early in the game, that was an opportunity to set the tone and take a hard foul if he had to or at least try to get an emphatic block, but no, we saw Bosh back out of the situation, trying to avoid contact by any means. Well, so much for that.

When the word came out that Boozer wasn’t going to play, I thought the Raptors would actually have a chance to pull this one out, just something about the time zone changes, the winning streak on the line, it just all seemed like the perfect scenario for an upset. Unfortunately, the Jazz came out with a balanced attack and let Deron Williams do the rest.

Okay, we already knew that Jose’s D leaves a lot to be desired and we also already knew that Deron Williams’ offensive talents are many, but damn, I thought the Raptors training staff were going to have to tape up Jose’s ankles early in the game. That was tough to watch. You have to give it up for Jose, he didn’t let it bother him and he also was able to put some tough shooting out of his mind and still finish with a double-double. That’s the sign of a true professional. When you are just getting schooled and then you don’t have your shot going on the other end, it takes a lot of mental toughness to stay in it and still run your team’s offense.

I guess the tide really turned for the Raptors off that jump ball that Joey won, but Kirilenko ended up taking the other way for points. May I ask Bargs just what he was standing there frozen for? His feet were rooted to the ground and Joey’s efforts were wasted. I don’t want to pin the game on one play, but that was an important one and the Raptors came out on the wrong end of it.

Okay, honestly, I think I have seen Deron Williams dunk like 5 times ever. When he is able to walk down the lane and throw down, you really have to take a look at how things are going on D. Really. Nothing against Deron, I love his game, but he shouldn’t be showing anybody up with dunks. Yikes.

Pops. 11 minutes, 7 boards, 4 fouls. If you remember, I’ve said on more than one occasion that the Raptors need some guys who understand what their roles are on the team. Pops seems to get what his role is here. He runs the floor, brings energy and I’ll be damned if that guy isn’t jumping for every board out there. You don’t see him trying to create plays or taking a bunch of wild shots, he’s just there to get boards (and the occasional wild-swinging block). If you can have a guy like that on your team, they can really play an important part on figuring out how to put together a winner. I KNOW, he has only played a couple of games, but I’m just saying, it looks like he gets what he is here to do.