Archive for April, 2009

Game 82: Raptors vs. Bulls - Post-game

Bittersweet. That’s pretty much all you can say about tonight’s win over the Bulls to close out the season. You can sit back and look at the past couple of weeks and wonder just which team was the real Raptors team from this season. Surely, there is enough evidence to suggest that the real Raptors are the ones who turned in a lot of subpar performances leading to convincing losses, but there were also some momentary flashes of what could be called brilliance…well, if you wanted to provide a misnomer. Let’s go with momentary flashes of quality play.

So was Shawn Marion’s performance tonight a final way of putting himself on display for the upcoming offseason? Last chance to make an impression that will have to last until after the playoffs are over? Kind of strange when your best game of the year comes in your last game of the year, although maybe the Bulls just weren’t into it that much. I thought the Bulls would have liked the matchup, a good way for them to prepare for the playoffs without being too taxed, but instead, they got smacked around. This was one of those games where (for a change in the Raptors favour) the final score wasn’t indicative of how far apart the two teams were all night.

I also would have thought that Chicago would have been playing with more urgency since the seeds weren’t set, but it looks like now they are going to have to face Boston in the first round. How the Raptors were able to come out and dominate like that is beyond me and walking into the playoffs, if I were a Bulls fan right now, I would be seriously worried (although facing the Celtics, they should probably already be worried, KG or no KG).

So this season has finally come to a close for the Raptors and now we can get on to watching some quality basketball instead of being subjected to the schoolyard crap we had to endure for most of the season. Of course, there will be plenty to talk about leading up to the draft, especially considering all of the things the Raptors have to take care of personnel-wise. Should be interesting.

Game 82: Raptors vs. Bulls - Pre-game

It’s finally here. The final game of the season…well, for the Raptors. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t think I have ever been happier to see the end of the season. You may have noticed that I have missed a couple of pre-games and post-games lately and while I can put a lot of the blame for that on work, about 25% of that was just not feeling like writing about the demise of what was once (and I mean in the first week) a promising season.

So the Raptors walk into Chicago to face the Bulls in a game that doesn’t really mean a whole lot (again, to the Raptors). This is one of those games where you might see a lot of guys just going through the motions, but to be honest, we have pretty much seen a lot of that all season, so we probably won’t notice anything a lot different from any other point in the year.

For the Bulls, it’s a nice way for them to tune up for the post-season, facing a team that isn’t great, but isn’t absolutely terrible, somebody who could give you a bit of a challenge, but not too much that you will feel it for a few days. This is kind of like having somebody throw you batting practice in baseball. Bring it in fast enough to work on your mechanics, but not so fast that you are really concentrating on just making solid contact. Consider the Raptors the Bulls’ sparring partner.

That’s pretty much it. No need to do any real analysis on the game. Just sit back and enjoy watching the Raptors for the last time this season.

3 in the Key

1. Find the arena.

2. Dress enough players.

3. Avoid any brawls. Then again, who cares, scrap it up.

Game 81: Raptors vs. Wizards - Post-game

That was kind of strange. Just when I thought the Raptors were going to show once again why they had the kind of season they did, Chris Bosh comes up big hitting a shot I never want him to take. Yup, it has just been that kind of season where strange things have happened, a lot of them being bad, but with the occasional gem here and there.

Even stranger than Bosh hitting the 3 (we have seen him do that once in a while) was that the Raptors came back from being down double digits with about six minutes left in the game. How many times have we seen that this season? You could probably count on one hand.

But before we get too crazy and talk about the things that could have been this season, let’s remember that this was the Washington Wizards the Raptors were up against tonight. The Wizards are not a good team. There’s no other way to say it. They are on the verge of tying their franchise record for most losses in a season. They are without their blogging/ball-hogging star and have stumbled through the whole season. This is the kind of team the Raptors should be taking care of on a nightly basis, but then again, based on what we have seen from the Raps this season, maybe this isn’t the kind of team they should be taking care of. Maybe tonight was just a blip on what has been a meteorite of a season.

So now into Chicago for the final game of the season. Funny how it looks like the Raptors might go out the way they came in, winning a few in a row. Bookends on a season of misery.

Game 80: Raptors vs. Sixers - Pre-game

So, who is more likely to end their losing streak Sunday night? The Raptors or the Sixers? It’s funny, because for a good portion of the season, the Raptors have looked like they shut things down, with an astounding lack of effort on many nights. On Philly’s side, since they locked down a playoff spot, they have looked a lot like the Raptors have for most of the season. They have essentially shut things down and are in cruise control to the playoffs. I’m not sure if seed placement means anything to them, but it sure doesn’t look like it.

I could go into a bunch of things the Raptors need to do to secure a win against the Sixers, but really, it doesn’t matter a whole lot. It’s not like they are facing a hated rival who they can upend on their way into the playoffs or anything like that. It’s also not like they are going to play spoiler here (other than by helping to determine the seeds). This is just another game in the Raptors losing out the season. If there was ever a time I wish I had a device from a movie, it would be that remote that Adam Sandler had in that horrible movie where he could control life situations with a remote control. Somebody please fast-forward me to the end of this season so I can watch some games that matter.

As a final kick in the pants, Sunday’s game is on TSN2, just as a reminder of how this was an additional reason this season sucked. The fact that Rogers subscribers had to endure this cruel and unusual punishment for an entire season is inexcusable.

3 in the Key

1. Who wants it more? Well, that would probably be the Sixers, but with the way they have been playing lately, who knows?

2. Close at the half. The Raptors will need to have this game close at halftime or else they are going to look up at the scoreboard and start thinking about closing out the season and getting the hell out of Toronto.

3. Pace. The Raptors will need to control the flow of the game if they are going to have a chance.

Game 79: Raptors vs. Wizards - Post-game

I’m not sure which sub-plot was more interesting: the Raptors looking to close out the season with a 7 game losing streak to balance things out from their recent success or the DNP-CD beside Gilbert Arenas’ name on the scoresheet.

At this point, I’m not sure why Gilbert doesn’t just retire. He said that he isn’t doing his blog anymore, that he is packing it in on that front, but realistically, that is the part of him that is actually still entertaining. He should just hang’em up and walk right into the broadcast booth, because I have a feeling that he would bring some of what Charles Barkley has brought to TNT broadcasts: some entertainment with good insight and no filter.

Speaking of filters or lack thereof, we saw another game slide through the Raptors’ fingers. Okay, it’s not like the Raptors had the Wizards come back and steal this one from them, but we did see Caron Butler (again, one of my favourite guys) come through with a clutch shot after nearly breaking Shawn Marion’s ankles. When you’re breaking down Shawn Marion like that, you have just done something special.

I don’t think Bargs is completely healthy based on what we saw last night. He looked a little slow and definitely uncomfortable and at this point in the season with the Raptors’ record being what it is, just shut him down and call it a season. What’s the point of sending the guy out there to further injure himself when there really isn’t anything to play for? When you have something like a foot, knee, or any joint that is injured, don’t risk it, especially when you are a big man. The Raptors are going to need Bargs to play a big role in the next few years and it would be stupid to set that back by any degree at this point in his career.

I like the way this kid Blatche plays on Washington. He has a little bit of grit to him. Sometimes he seems a little careless with the ball, but he’s not in there to be handling it. He’s in there to grab some boards, get some putbacks and put a few people on their backs. He’s a young guy and has a lot of good years in front of him and if he can either get on a team that has a little more upside than the Wiz or help turn the Wiz into something a little stronger, he should have a decent career in front of him.

The thing about last night’s game is the Wizards are one of the few teams in the league who the Raptors should be beating. The Wizards have been hampered by injuries the past few years, but they had 18 wins going into this game for a reason. They don’t play very well as a cohesive unit and it shows. There is no chemistry on this team and the lack of aggression on most nights is glaring.

Speaking of chemistry (lots of segues here, eh?), the Raptors might have to look at blowing a few things up, starting with Chris Bosh. Now, readers of RF might know that I am a Chris Bosh fan. I think he has worked hard on the parts of his game that weren’t as strong as others (his D, his ability to attack, his toughness) to the point where he has made significant progress and he is almost a complete all-round player. I also think that at this point, he is starting to look at his future and things he wants to accomplish in the league. Based on what he has seen this year, I don’t know if there would be a strong argument for hanging around after next season. I don’t really want to get into all of this talk about 2010, but this time around, whether the Raptors plan on trying to keep Bosh or trying to trade him, I just hope they have more of a plan than before when high profile players were on their way out. It didn’t really seem like there was a lot of planning that went into the Vince deal and somehow the Raptors let T-Mac walk for nothing. No matter what the Raptors do, they are going to have to figure out what they want to do with Bosh and how they are going to shape the team.

Game 78: Raptors vs. Pacers - Post-mortem

It’s not very often that I miss a Raptors game and if I do, then I typically don’t write about it, because if I haven’t seen it, then I would just be guessing based on box scores and highlights. But tonight, well, tonight I am just going to offer some social commentary on tonight’s murder.

Apparently, at one point, the Raptors were down 41 points in this game. FORTY-ONE POINTS. Now, you don’t have to have seen a game to know that if you are down by 41 at any point during the game, there is a serious ass-kicking going on. This is the kind of ass-kicking where it doesn’t even amount to fun for the other team. It’s the kind of ass-kicking where everybody wants to just go home. It’s the equivalent at being at your grandmother’s birthday when you’re a teenager. The thing is called a party, but it isn’t even close to being a party, but you can’t leave because your boss (your parents) remind you that you have an obligation to be there, at least in body.

I can only imagine what it was like to have suffered through tonight’s massacre. Looking at the box score, Pops took more shots than the following Raptors starters: Marion, Calderon and Parker. Yikes. Pops was locked.

So it looks like the Raptors are well on their way to balancing out the 7 game win streak they had. If they lose the rest of the season, it would just be so fitting and it would pretty much sum up the season. As I mentioned earlier, I always root for the Raptors to win, but right now, it’s kind of like when you see your friend in trouble talking to his girl and instead of trying to help him, you sit back and watch him dig himself deeper into a hole. Schadenfreude at its best.

So after having a seriously busy work day, where I couldn’t pop out to see any of the Liverpool game (which they lost…sigh) and then having to work some OT and not being able to see the Raptors game (which they got absolutely drilled in) or the Jays game (where they lost to the Tigers), ?I’m starting to think that it was a good day to be busy.

Game 78: Raptors vs. Pacers - Pre-game

The Pacers can score. The Raptors can’t play D. It sounds like a match made in heaven for Indiana, but the caveat comes in that the Pacers can’t play D either, so there is a pretty good chance things could just end up in an old fashioned shootout.

The thing is, this is the kind of game where if you are a player who doesn’t get many minutes, but are trying to make an impression on the coach and management, you could easily get sucked into forcing some shots. For players like Douby and Pops (sounds like a 70s sitcom, doesn’t it? Actually, to tell you the truth, it’s a sitcom that developed in 2009…and it ain’t funny), they are going to have to play within themselves, but also play with that edge that shows that they want it. It’s a fine line that they have to walk. They don’t want to get greedy and try to do everything, but at the same time, they have to show that they are hungry; that they want to win and will do whatever it takes to win.

The Raptors need to win the majority of their remaining games if they are going to have anything positive to take into the offseason. There’s nothing worse than getting whupped down the stretch and then having to think about not only that, but the whole season over the summer…that is, assuming that any of the players care about anything basketball related in the summer.

3 in the Key

1. The Raptors are going to have to hustle a bit more to get to 3-pointers. Far too many times lately, we have seen Raptors opponents taking wide open 3’s and at critical moments too.

2. The Raptors need to find an identity, especially against teams like the Pacers. The Pacers are a good team, but the Raptors are going to have to figure out how they want to attack different teams depending on who they are playing and where they are at in game.

3. Can we please limit the amount of open looks guys are getting? It is starting to get a little out of control.

Game 77: Raptors vs. Hawks - Post-game

And a new streak begins. Just to balance things out, how fitting would it be to see the Raptors finish the season on a 7-game losing streak? Trust me, I certainly don’t want to see it, but I think we would be fooling ourselves if we thought that it wasn’t a possibility.

A lot of the same problems that have been around all season made their appearances tonight. The Raptors were not able to box guys out, allowing some easy rebounds and there were too many good looks from beyond the arc. It doesn’t matter what kind of 3-point shooting team you are facing, if they get repeated wide open looks, then they are going to eventually start knocking them down.

The problem for the Raptors tonight was that a lot of those missed rebounds directly led to 3-point opportunities, as in their scurrying, the Raptors were not able to find the wide open man to at least get a hand in his face. One problem just led to another.

Now that Josh Smith is more of a team player, he is really showing how much he can benefit a team. With tonight’s performance, it was like there was a more grown up Josh Smith out there, a guy who had a good idea of what his role is on the team and what he has to do to make a difference every night. Josh was rebounding, scoring, even trying (and yes, let’s not call it more than that) to set some screens. As much as people tend to get on him about things, I think that over his career, we have seen a steady progression as far as becoming a mature athlete goes. His game is developing as his mindset does.

It was good to see that Jay went to his bench early for some extended minutes and they actually rewarded him with some pretty solid play. Those are the kinds of things that the Raptors brass will need to be checking out if they are going to make some serious decisions about next year.

Game 77: Raptors vs. Hawks - Pre-game

So the streak is over and the Raptors can go back to sucking. Well, hopefully not. I would hope that after seeing what they can achieve when they are healthy and operating with an actual game plan, that they would be able to play a tough game against the Hawks, who are one of the more entertaining teams in the league to watch.

The Raptors are going to have to be ready for the Hawks, who are fighting for good playoff positioning and are trying to get out of a rut that has seen them lose 6 of their last 8 games. Mike Bibby, who continuously gives the Raptors fits, will be looking to take charge as he usually does when his team needs him. The Raptors are also going to have some problems guarding Joe Johnson, who is athletic, but also has the nice stroke that keeps defenders honest.

The Raptors should be trying to close the season out on a high note, winning games to show the rest of the league that they could have been a threat this year, but also that they will be one next year. It doesn’t sound like much to play for, but sometimes playing for pride is all you have available. It would be nice to see if some of the role players could get some additional minutes, because really, in the end, these games don’t mean that much anymore.

3 in the Key

1. Jose is going to have to find a way to control Bibby. I’ll take him driving the lane if Jose can just make sure that he doesn’t have open looks all night.

2. Is anybody going to be able to play some D against Joe Johnson?

3. The Raptors might be better trying to control the tempo than run against the Hawks.

Game 76: Raptors vs. Knicks - Post-game

Back to life…back to reality. Sorry, that was just me flashing back to high school, but the song seemed so relevant considering what we were all subject to today down at the ACC. Around 4:00, my daughter and I were walking by the ACC and I told her that it is the place where the Raptors play. She asked, “Are they playing today?” and my response was, “We’ll see.” It was completely lost on the 5-year old, but the inner-Jay was all over it.

There were some appalling defensive displays by the Raptors today; almost as appalling as some of the calls and non-calls (I’m not talking about the ones Bosh was complaining about, because I didn’t see anything there, I’m talking more about when somehow Marion wasn’t called for an offensive foul in the fourth, instead having it called blocking…truly amazing officiating there). We saw Knicks players walking through the lane for easy layups; guys hanging out on the perimeter jacking threes without so much as a hand in their faces or somebody running out towards them; slow rotations…this game had it all.

I guess we were right in thinking that D’Antoni wasn’t going to let the Knicks lay down after being officially eliminated yesterday as they came out with a lot of their own big stops when the Raptors looked like they were ready to make a charge. Each time the Raptors got close, the Knicks came right back with a big 3. I guess sometimes it is good to return the favour…

If Bargs can continue to master that turnaround jumper, it could turn into something really dangerous. A good turnaround jumper is a tough thing to accomplish and an even tougher thing to defend. There are so many things that can go wrong on the offensive end, from having poor balance to not having proper focus on the basket, to seeing a teammate open and then questioning your shot. The thing is, if you are able to master those things and focus on the shot itself, if you have a natural stroke, it can be lethal because defenders can’t really get up on you when you are taking it. If you are a 7 footer who can master it, it becomes a really tough thing to defend just because of the separation you are able to create between yourself and the defender. Tonight, we saw Bargs hit that shot a few times and over the season, we have seen him use it with more confidence than ever. All part of a developing game.

So now that the Raptors are officially out of the playoffs…well, nothing really is different for them. They have been out of the playoffs for a long time, just not officially. The Raptors should just be looking to finish out the season strong, but they should be looking to get some guys like Pops extra minutes to see what they are really made of. It will be tough to get a sense of what a guy is all about when there is no pressure on him at the end of the season, but at least you can get a better idea of him when he gets extended minutes.

So let’s please close this thing out and get on with the playoffs, please?

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