Archive for January, 2010

Making Waves

Are we actually lucky to be Raptor fans?

Remember how awful and unfortunate it was to get the number one pick a year before the number one pick was going to be Greg Oden? I mean people were happy enough, but hoping Colangelo could trade down all the same, while ultimately envying the number one pick that was still a year away from eligibility. Maybe we all should have just been very happy and left it at that, because as things turn out, our guy has turned out pretty good, while the other guy that was supposed to set the world on fire has turned fewer heads then that crazy old man singing Pants on the Ground on American Idol. Oh – and there he is missing another season with his own pants on the ground, and surely happy now that Apple has come out with a tablet, because the Oden Penis app just wasn’t going to be properly handled by your regular iPhone.

And not only is our pick turning into a unique, consistent performer on both ends of the court, but he’s doing it with a pretty good team around him. Some young players make a name for themselves with a bunch of chuckers and fillers around them, and they often look out for themselves to the point where any promising talent that emerges on their team withers away. Bargnani gets better as the team around him gets better. We all wanted him to give the team that boost that would make the difference in the win column. But he simply needs to find his way through games as the talent around him allows.

So, I’m starting to understand what he means by just needing his minutes. It’s not the usual demand for more me time. It’s just what he needs to patiently pick and choose his spots and take advantage of different aspects that he brings to the game. He’s riding the waves, and he needs to be able to catch the right swells during high tides to make the most impact.

And the team is providing some pretty good waves right now. Andrea’s arrival as the number one pick did not bring the kind of immediate dividends as a Duncan provided to the Spurs, but he’s got his own twin tower that is quite a lot younger than the Admiral, and hopefully around for some time yet. And Bosh is sacrificing his own minutes and numbers in respect for Bargnani, as the two of them now basically share the role of being the primary option on offense. They are more and more in sync, and getting results that promise to someday get near what the Spurs’ big men could do together. And the sacrifices continue on down the roster, with Jack and Calderon splitting minutes, bench players accepting their roles, and with Hedo maybe even getting over not being in Orlando. The whole culture of the team is starting to head in a very good, Spurs-like direction, wherin a guy like Duncan could thrive. Hell we might even be taking that next step in the process, with the other guy from Italy bringing some of the promise of a young Ginobili.

Maybe they don’t win that trophy right now. Maybe they don’t ever. But if they can keep improving internally, and building, and then competing for the same length of time as the team of the decade, I have to consider myself lucky as a fan. No more waiting for that one magical player picked in the lottery that is going to turn garbage into gold. No more lottery. Just a serious team in every sense of the word, able to play as a team year after year, and give themselves a chance to taste greatness together. That’s a fun thing to see. I really hope I’m seeing some of that now.

Dog Days

These are the dog days of the NBA. Legs getting heavy. Effort needed as much as sheer talent. And leadership comes into play. If the Raptors can summon up the determination they showed here against the Bucks, then they should be able to take advantage of their schedule right up to the break. And they really need to if they want to hit the final stretch well-positioned. Teams like Charlotte and Chicago are playing well, and the Heat might get on a roll with the addition of Rafer. Hopefully the dog days will not be as kind to those guys as they can be for our guys.

The big dog that the team needs to get into the hunt, is obviously Hedo. Is he missing the incessant barking and howling of Stan Van? Now there’s a voice that auto-tune cannot fix! But maybe it’s the voice that keeps on calling Hedo. Ever since sitting to end the game in Cleveland, he looks a little more ready to just fight through a sustained stretch and worry a little less about his role. Jarrett Jack went through such a spell himself, although without quite the threat of being embarrassed as a professional, and now that he’s found the dog within himself again, he’s just the right guy to help Hedo through this. You can see him being supportive, and it doesn’t just begin and end with his relationship with Hedo, or his former college roommate. A team is coming together, and he’s doing a lot of the lifting when it comes to getting the foundation in place.

I love how Jack is always ready to lead through his own example. Demar runs into a brick wall named Shaq, and Jack is there to pick him off the ground and get on him to do it again. Then Jack does it himself and the rookie comes over with a worried look. That’s when you can read Jack’s lips as he says, “kinda hurts, doesn’t it?”

Jack makes everything work for his coach as well. It looks like the two have formed a bond of sorts. That allows Triano to actually think on the fly a little bit, and really show his pedigree as a basketball mind, because he knows he not only has a guy that will implement and execute, but a guy that will lead the whole pack and be the coach on the floor. If belief reinforces belief among pg and coach, that can make up for what either of them might be lacking as individuals.The results are typically better at home than on the road, with Jack’s grittiness and Triano’s feel coming more to the fore, but with loads of home games in this stretch of dog days, there lies yet another advantage.

And then it’s going to be all about that final stretch. Hopefully the little bit of grittiness that has come along the way will get them rolling when they’ll be needing to the most. Will they have any changes to the cast as the trade deadline looms? Is Bosh going to maintain the added weight and strength? Will Bargnani continue to grow as a player? Will Triano continue to grow as a coach? And what will Turkoglu bring to the equation? Will the break and the lighter schedule be all he needs, or is he going to need a full off-season? Or is it all mental? Does he just need to work through the shock of being lowballed by the Magic last summer and move on?

There are plenty of questions in these dog days, and those surrounding Hedo are the most troublesome, while pointing toward some hopeful musings if they can be answered in a positive manner. RF’s own Clingrap put it all in a good perspective with these comments – I’m still concerned about his shot and lift. he’s got nothing right now. he’s backrimming so many shots because his legs aren’t in the shot. i love the effort. i love the hustle. but i think that’s the extra, not the norm in a more suitable situation. he’s here to score and playmake and make shots.
he’s not an energy guy. he’s brought in to be a game changer and if we’re going to rely on his hustle to change games then we’re in trouble.

I’ll be watching with my trusty pup Mochi at my side. He’s wearing a cone right now after having his nuts removed. They never descended, and the vet had to search right up to the area around his kidneys to find the damn things. I try to console him, playing the Jarrett to his Hedo, explaining how I had the big V performed upon my own precious parts. “There may not be much sack on the dog”, I tell him, “but there’s still plenty of dog in the sack”. Yeah. Mochi doesn’t get it either.

Winning Big

Remember before Bosh was selected in ’03, how badly the Toronto Raptors needed some credible, functional, viable size? Things might have even bottomed out completely in Bosh’s first season, when he played C with a banged up knee and a skinny frame, and there was no other real size to be had outside of the “Banger Brothers”. After that we saw the arrival of the Haffanator, who seemed like an evolutionary twist on the Huffman-Huffamazing. Actually the whole collection of bigs throughout the first half of the decade could all be lined up on a chart not unlike the one showing the link from ape to neanderthal to human, with the more human calibre of NBA talent appearing so rarely as to suggest a process as slow as evolution.

Finally we have found the missing link, or links actually. Bosh, Bargnani, Amir “Dirty Baby” Johnson, Rasho, and the pre-season wonder – Reggie Evans. Add to that the size of Hedo, and it is clear that this team can finally play big. But can they win big? Or is it simply a horrible irony that what teams need to win in the NBA today, is speed and playmaking on the perimeter? It was the small ball that hurt this team last week in Indy, and it will be small ball that gives them fits in games yet to come. But they also have bigs with enough mobility to withstand most of the attempts to make speed count for more than size, and as long as they continue to improve their half-court game, getting the most out of shots while not allowing for a ton of transition points the other way, this team is going to be able to gain an identity through it’s big men.

I fell in love with Andrea Bargnani last week. That is the guy I imagined when he was picked #1. Earlier this season I said that he needs to bring the kind of energy that Marion supplied last season, and that if he could muster that it would make this season a success. Energy. Not shots, not rebounds per se, just the energy – and then the rest would come for himself – and more importantly, for his team. And the energy is there. He is hunting down loose balls, he is battling inside and out, guarding Howard and Rondo effectively, and this team is winning easy and winning ugly, winning through offense and winning on defense. He’s talking, he’s bouncing around and skipping like a little girl when he gets the job done. He’s getting teched up when things don’t go his way. He’s arrived, with a boost of energy.

He made a couple of moves in the post against a smaller Knicks squad, that looked a little bit like Duncan. The ease of motion was there – the fundamental soundness. And the way he is not only grabbing boards with two hands (two hands!!!), but having the awareness to create space for himself afterwards, must be making Moses Malone proud to have worked with him over the summer. I always felt that Andrea would and should be defined in terms of his completeness as a player. He is not Dirk. The overall flair is not there. He is a different animal. He has his own branch on the evolutionary tree. OK – maybe it’s just a twig, but it is unique in how it takes some of the same sap that feeds the likes of a Marion, a Duncan, a Dirk and a Malone. That’s pretty complete, and he deserves a ton of credit for not focusing on being more like any of those guys, nor being content to be able to hit some three pointers and block some shots as he’s always done. Because it’s his ability to do a bit of everything that makes him so valuable.

Now add a more sizable Bosh than before, a physical workman like Amir, and eventually the threatening presence of Reggie Evans, and it’s going to take some extremely hot shooting for this team to get beat on most nights. Right now I’m liking the idea of a matchup against just about anybody but Boston. If this team continues to gel around the play of its bigs, then they are going to be a tough to handle. If Bosh and Hedo can continue to sacrifice individual numbers alongside Bargnani, then they’ve got an extremely big, and well-balanced front court, to complete a transformation from the first half of the season to the last half of the season that is going to leave little to complain about, for myself anyways.

Remember when the games were coming fast and furious, and you were almost happy to have forgotten some parts of that schedule? Now do you feel like the days inbetween games are going too slow and you’re checking the schedule over and over again? That’s the deal for me, and it is a big, and welcome change.

Black Clouds

I’m not sure what the extended forecast is for the next few days, but some of the black clouds that have descended need to show their silver linings.

Last season we saw the same sort of clouds forming over Jermaine O’Neal. Jay Triano has said that he knew the season was going be very difficult when he saw JO lobbying to change schemes to better suit him, three games into a three win season. I remember O’Neal talking at length about how he studied the tapes all night to see where he can get his game off more. When you witness hints of self-interest in veteran players that have their hearts in past glories, you can sense the storms brewing. This season we’re seeing something similar happening with Hedo Turkoglu. He wants to be in Orlando. He won in Orlando. He was close to being an All Star in Orlando, and when things mattered the most, he was the first option. Who wouldn’t want that? But he is not in Orlando, and he seems to have consoled himself by looking to increase his his personal status in this league, when he should be happy to make the team better and moving forward.

Was there something in Colangelo’s sales job aside from the 53 million that Raptors fans obsess over a little too much? Did he whisper in Turkoglu’s ear something about how he took an aging free agent by the name of Steve Nash, and allowed Stevie to take his game to a level worthy of two MVPs? Did he suggest that Hedo should be able to really showcase his talents to the point where the All Star game selection would surely come? Or did he explain how as a veteran presence with great success in his past, he would be counted on to make other guys around him that much better than they might be already? Because that is where the emphasis needed to be to make this thing work going in. And with everything Hedo has said and done so far, it doesn’t seem to be where the sale was made.

And let’s face it – Colangelo has a pretty bad track record when it comes to free agents. Aside from Nash, there was the immediate failure of Fred Jones and the drawn-out failings of Jason Kapono. And he didn’t fare well in terms of trying to integrate a veteran presence in the form of JO. But here’s what bugs me a little – Hedo does fit. It works. There’s a big part of me that would much rather see Shawn Marion next to Bosh and Bargnani, but I can’t dismiss the feeling that the progress that both Bosh and Bargnani have made this season has been made possible in part due to Hedo. Hedo gives them both space to operate that Marion never could. And he does bring a rhythm and flow to the halfcourt game that was missing before. Forget about Hedo’s personal stats – look at the numbers of those around him and you have to figure he provides more value than might be seen at first glance.

Now – can Hedo look at his value in those terms? I really hope so. Since he made his little noise about needing the ball more, Triano went back to the running game – a la Nash. And it worked. For a quarter or so. Then his starters, on their third game in four nights, slumped their way through the rest of the contest, while the Pacers were happy to run the rest of the way. Hedo could not work any magic whatsoever, nor transfer any to his gassed teammates. If they had just stuck with what had worked over the last ten games, then they would have been fine. But Hedo played his hand, and Triano played his, and the team got lost in the shuffle.

At the same time as they’ve looked to resurrect their running style, they’ve been looking at getting Bosh to be more of a passer and playmaker. Is that something that is going to get Hedo involved more? It would seem likely, but it must seem like putting the cart before the horse for Turkoglu, with Bosh initiating and facilitating in Hedo’s place. And the turnovers have piled up at a pace a little to close to Howard’s along the way.

In Orlando, there were no bigs that needed the ball quite like they do here. Dwight Howard could live off of everything he cleaned up on the boards. The roles worked very well with Hedo using Howard as an option that was just as effective without the ball quite often, particularly in crunch time. Now Hedo is that guy that represents an option, and he doesn’t like the shift in perspective, and it doesn’t exactly make his name jump out at all-star voters. But if he can actually be effective with or without the ball, then I’ll take it and go from there, and look to see more wins piling up.

So I hope they can rest those legs and work out the chemistry in the next few days. Not long ago the 50 millionth man-made chemical was created. Surely the Raptors can come up with something to dissolve black clouds. If not then the coach and GM are going to be faced with some big decisions that will not wait on the back-burner. At some point the ego placating is going to have to stop and sacrifices will need to be asked for. The winning should have made all of that much easier, but if the winning isn’t working for Hedo, then that black cloud is going to have to make way for clear skies.

Slapping and Chopping, Chopping and Slapping

.500. I called it. Ho hum. Now do we minimize the feat and point to it as the greatest sign of mediocrity? Or do we see a clean slate for real now? I see a team that is better than their record yet, and feel confident that it will continue to rise and emerge above even stevens.

I loved to see the team beating Orlando with Bosh putting in an average game. And I enjoyed seeing Bosh not try to force his game too much. I particularly liked seeing the whole team trust in their halfcourt abilities when so much defensive effort was going into stopping Bosh again. Bosh’s numbers might go down if opposing teams play the same way, but to me he looks like more of a leader, and part of a legitimate team under these circumstances. He looks like a better player when the team plays well as a whole, and scraps the need for early offense as a gimmicky means of getting the ball in everyone’s hands enough. Again – unlike with Boston – there were plenty of good shots, and this time – unlike with San Antonio – a good number went in.

Meanwhile, seeing every last guy working hard on defense, and understanding how to execute on defense, again made Bosh look good as something of a defensive anchor, even with a couple of possessions where he needed to at least foul Lewis and Nelson as they entered the lane, and failed to do so. He made life difficult enough overall to make the difference all the same. And Bargnani has to be seen as a part of that anchor under the net as well. Between the two of them, they have done to the Spurs and the Magic, what was done to the Raptors in Boston just a few nights back. That doesn’t even seem real in a way.

Triano has done a nice job with some days in between games, to prepare this team. He had a lot of answers last night. Seeing Jose drive and kick out to Andrea on two consecutive possessions was a revelation. And overall this team has figured out how to not just take what the defense gives them, and forcing offense in ways the defense is entirely prepared to beat down, but they are taking what is there with enough patience and intelligence to get excellent shots instead of just the immediate open looks. Derozan continually brought the ball in from the arc to let fly from a spot on the floor he is obviously more comfortable with. Nice idea. Hedo gives up the open look to put the ball on the floor and draw Vince towards him, only to pass it out where rotations are slow thanks to Vince needing lots of help in the first place, and the ball not only comes back inside to Bosh where Dwight still remains fixed, but from Bosh it goes back to Hedo open under the basket. All that instead of chucking the open three. That my friends is what we’ve all seen from the wrong end since Vince was on our side. Credit Triano and the right mix of veterans to get it done. No amount of bad reffing was going to stop that kind of heady play at both ends.

But there is still a pre-determined feel to how the game played out. The preparation was clearly very good, but at some point some hard decisions are going to have to be made. I think putting both point guards in is something that can work. Is it something that should unquestionably be relied upon? Especially in crunch time? Are guys like Dirty Baby Amir, Weems, and DeMar looking at a ceiling on their minutes that is never going to change no matter what happens in games? And what is going to happen when Evans is ready? Will Triano’s head explode?

Evans gave me a little laugh during the Spurs game. The team is in the huddle, and Reggie and Jose stand on the edge of the huddle in their suits. When suddenly Reggie reaches across Jose’s back and gives him the phantom tap on the shoulder from the opposite side. Jose turns to look at air, and now that he’s on the court again, unless he gets his role firmly defined, I’m worried that there will be more such glances toward nothing, only more symbolically, and with yucks instead of yukyuks.

Triano is still using the Slap Chop where he needs to start using a regular set of knives. A bent blade at the end of a threaded plunger can work if everything goes as expected. Eventually that bent blade is going to get plugged up and everything is going to smell like onions no matter how much it gets washed. It’s time to bring the knives out, and sharpen them, and use the right ones for the right moments of a game. No more gimmicks used in order to avoid the tough decisions. As much as Reggie is sure to like any nuts he gets his hands on, all of the cheap kitchen gadgets need to go in the junk drawer by the time he returns.

The talent is there now, especially if Hedo and Jose have a decent set of wheels apiece. They all trust each other and work together. They should look even better than they have in wins against two good teams. When Hedo and Jose both looked iffy on their legs, it only made their overlapping tendencies worse. It was like my problem with having five remotes, with one that has conked out altogether and requires me to get off the couch to turn on the stereo receiver, and a channel zapper that gets jammed and leaves me pressing numbers hard enough to squeeze juice out of them, until instead of channel 56 I end up on 666, which is probably a pay-for-view porn channel, and I’m going to end up with my self-esteem completely shot, muttering to myself, “what kind of idiot pays for porn?”.

That’s where Triano and Colangelo were not too long ago. Except they ended up on a channel with infomercials. Can the Snuggie offense be far behind, where Jose and Jarrett both wear the same oversized jersey/poncho? I hope not. Having Jose out for a while with that hip, aided in the avoidance of the big decisions. It allowed Jack to find a real role that didn’t feel so much like a kitchen gadget. Calderon needs to find the right role for himself. If his shot looks as good as it did last night, and he can go all out like he did last night, then what is lost with a Calderon that shoots a little more, and defends harder and more competently within fewer minutes? Just like Bosh is giving more with less right now, Jose can as well. And then when his well-sharpened knife needs to come into play more on any given night, let Triano pull that knife out.

Games like the last two, should have been blowouts, regardless of bad calls or tough luck with shots. You can see enough in this team to see that. They could easily be seen in an entirely different light come playoff time, if the preparation gets backed up with with the use of not just option A and B, slap and chop, chop and slap, but instead with a whole lot of slicing and dicing and paring and peeling according to what dishes present themselves. Take that next step now Jay Triano. Make something more delicious than a .500 mix of garlic and walnuts and potatoes and Reggie’s big toe. I don’t want to see some great ingredients go to waste just to fit a recipe that might suit a local chain. It’s time to dip your finger in, taste, and make the necessary changes, then taste again. I’m a happy customer right now, but I’m getting ready to send the usual fare back, if I don’t start seeing some care going into the final result.

What Was Working on the Weekend?

Quite a weekend. It looked like the Raptors had made no real progress over the course of the season when they failed to take advantage of Boston’s injury problems. Had the five game winning streak just been illusory good fortune? Was there just no improvement to be had from this team?

Here’s the thing – the grounds for building upon improved defense have been there from the start of the season. Nothing has hurt this team quite as badly as transition points going the other way. They account for many a night where the opposing points in the paint advantage was obscenely large, since fast breaks almost always finish at the rim. Giving up too many points off turnovers and bad shots that lead to breaks going the other way has left this team with no chance to show where or how they can improve on defense on too many nights, leaving them unable to chart any real progress at all. And that was supposed to change in Boston. But it was a similar story yet again. Boston doesn’t need talent to lead you into the paint and then knock the ball loose and go the other way, or change the shots on layups while leaking out for easy down court passes. Toronto kept trying to play a running game and accept the challenge of playing physically inside, but the Celtics had about two things in mind all night – run their asses down court on defense, and protect the basket inside – and that’s all they had to do to not only make Toronto’s offense look bad, but their defense as well.

So why not actually take some open jumpers that the Celtics were giving up as a consequence, and giving the defense a chance to force Boston into some uncomfortable situations? Why does this team, and it’s fans to a good degree, see a jumpshot as being such a loathesome option? There are good shots and bad shots that can happen all over the chart shot, and repeatedly going into the lane where the opposing team is not going to allow you to finish is a bad shot that leads to easy points going the other way.

And I think too much of that came by way of wanting to run and play some of that “exciting” brand of basketball that the coach and GM constantly advertise. If Boston is going to make it a point of emphasis to beat you down the court and set up their defense (something they’ve excelled at for over two seasons now), then why just pretend that they are playing the Pistons and force the same kind of early offense anyway?

Please tell me they have finally put aside the whole idea of needing to take advantage offensively early in the clock as their own point of emphasis. It is simply killing their chances to defend properly. The running should be towards the basket they are defending. Please allow Boston’s example to have the proper effect on what the Raptors hope to do.

Fast-forward to the next evening, and we did in fact see a more patient, thought-out, and controlled offense, leading to mostly good shots that gave the defense a chance whether they were makes or not. The play by Jarrett Jack near the end of the game proved to be a nice example of the kinds of things they did differently. The Spurs were taking away Bosh as an option, by fronting him with Bogans, and waiting eagerly to help with Duncan hovering behind him. It was a scheme that had created at least one of the turnovers that were eating away at that nice lead. And there weren’t any other viable options being left alone outside of Jack himself. But he didn’t just fling himself into the lane where Duncan would be just as able to help and create another turnover. He took a few steps back, gained some extra space, and used the threats around him to his advantage until he found his own best scoring opportunity near the freethrow line late in the clock.

That was a make, and a big one. And Bosh’s sweet little hook was clutch as well. There were plenty of misses in there though. But they were misses that came within the rhythm of the game, were under control, and weren’t anything that felt terribly frustrating outside of the fact that such a powerhouse of an offense should be able to stick open shots. Without pondering the mysteries that lie within that puzzle, I was happy to see a potent example of how they simply don’t need to be in a panic to score. They do not need to score to have any chance. They just need to take good shots, and then do the job on defense. It can be done. It has been done before, and now it should be something that defines them. My guess is that a lot of those shots start to go in if that has actually sunk in.

The best part was seeing three very exciting plays amidst all those missed shots. The alley-oop finished off the glass by Demar, the Bargnani reverse off the blow by on Duncan, and Weems imitating Magic and teeing up Amir all proved to be worthy of vocal chord workouts. They did get to run, off of their defense. And just seeing the blocks and general resistance on defense was fun enough. I would have killed to have seen a game like that a year ago. I think I might get to see a few more this season yet.

A Clean Slate for the New Year

If the Raptors can beat a banged-up team in Boston, they will be at .500. OK good. In my head, as a fan, I’ll think of it as a whole new beginning. What I see from them right now is what I expected to see coming out of the gates. Unfortunately, they were that horse that put up a big fuss getting into their designated stall, and coming out of the gates was less than clean, with too much bucking and stuttering that might have come close to throwing the jockey altogether.

But the NBA is not a horse race. Of course the preferred metaphor is a marathon. And in a marathon there is a sense of getting a do-over if the energy can be mustered. They’ve already passed a few pretenders that got off to a much easier start, such as Milwaukee and Chicago, and put some distance between those seeds on the bubble. Now the Raptors have as many wins as the Heat, with Wade looking a little lost and a little chubby as Miami heads into a two-month uphill climb of their own. It should just be a matter of time, on the road and through a series of back-to-backs, before they fall behind the Raptors. Miami has enjoyed a good load of home games so far, and in spite of Wade’s occasional “not in my house” histrionics, they failed to capitalize all that much. It’s hard to see where they find the room to improve enough to hold onto their current number 5 spot in the conference.

Could Atlanta fall back to the pack as well? They did go about ten minutes without scoring a couple of nights back. They should be able to win enough to keep their place in the standings, but in a marathon they are still a team that could falter more than the teams ahead of them.

Which brings us to Boston. They are hurting and showing their age a bit. Could a solid win over them by the Raptors bring on a little tailspin that allows Toronto to at least compete for the Atlantic? Yeah – I know I’m dreaming, but that’s what cleaning the slate can do for you. That was the dream I had going into the season, and now that I’ve allowed for the do-over, that dream can find a little life again. I recommend that everyone forget the first part of the season. It’s very liberating. You might be able to see a team quite different from their past.

There is one problem that sticks in my mind. I’m hearing a sense of renewal from Triano as well, and for my liking, he is placing a little too much emphasis on how exciting this team can be. Screw the entertainment value Jay. Just give me a sense that everything is being done to build upon further improving the defense. If that means bringing Jose or even Hedo off the bench, then so be it. I really disliked the strict reluctance to change up the starting lineup until Jose’s injury. It’s time to put the round pegs in the round holes and the square pegs in the square holes. It’s time to go with the best complimentary combinations available throughout a game, and put an end to making it such hard work for everyone to figure out what this team is and what their role should be.

The game against Charlotte provided a good example of some resilience and good team play. They fought back from a deficit, and then with five minutes left, Bosh blocked a shot, then laid out Felton with a solid pick before rolling to the post area to receive a pass from Jack that lead to a dunk. Unfortunately the refs called a mysterious foul on the floor that preceded the dunk. A solid eight point advantage stalled at six, and with Charlotte scoring on their next possession the game tightened up again. Fine. No panic seen from where I sat. It wasn’t going to be so easy as to just let Bosh do it alone. But then they started missing shots, and I was really just wishing that we had a guy that could plain stick an open jumper. Enter Bargnani, and there was a real sense of the team coming together to make a W happen. And Bargnani’s resulting display of emotion, maybe said a little too much about how he knows he has to be one of those guys that stops missing the open shots.

If they nail the open shots, then that alone will help the defense of this team, particularly against quick, athletic teams. It was a series of missed, open looks in the second and third quarters that gave Charlotte a couple of good runs with big tallies off transition scoring. If we can get guys like Belinelli to stop clanking shots off the rim for easy rebounds and run-outs, find a little more patience in half-court sets to begin with, be aware of the leakouts that are going to happen off of some of those quick, questionable shots, and simply nail the open looks they are paid to not miss, then they can work on opening up games a bit more, and providing some of that entertainment value. But only then. They finally seem to have the horse not only out of the gate, but pulling the cart (or would that be a ball rack?) – with defense leading to offense and momentum built upon hustle, rather than defense requiring good offense and hustle coming only after some momentum comes their way. Now let’s see how they make out finally going around that first turn.