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.

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