At the time of writing this, I’m getting anticipatory feelings about real basketball action resuming, and thinking about what the Raptors need to finish the season strong. And I think it’s going to come down to heart. As simple as that. Well, actually finding a consistent three-point threat woudn’t hurt. But heart is going to be a big part of the equation.
What does that entail exactly? It’s hard to say. Those damn Yankees needed miles and miles and miles of it. What kind of tremendous poetic imagery is that? They don’t write songs like that anymore. It makes me think of a terrible mess of roadkill though, so I guess it’s a good thing they don’t. But what better way to describe the impact of heart? It’s a tough one, and although I’m tempted to drink some Sprite in order to come up with flourishes that would make a Jack Kerouac sit in the center of his own universe and cry at the beauty of it all, I suspect the Sprite trick works about as well as the dunk contest ended up.
We know it when we see it. It was mostly heart that allowed us to think that the Houston Rockets could take down the Lakers and anybody else, as if they still had the same not-to-be-underestimated hearts of the champion Rockets of the previous decade. It was heart that allowed Paul Pierce to win the three-point shooting contest, and it was heart that couldn’t keep him from proclaiming to be one of the best shooters in history (or maybe the Sprite worked for him). It was heart that had Reggie Evans working all winter in the pool with his mammoth water-wings. And now it is the stuff that this team needs to make their current hot streak something more.
Some heart was gained when Chris Bosh recognized that he is not allowed to have any off-games, or the excuses that trail behind every one of those. That was a big part of what took him to another level – heart and some extra pounds of muscle – and now there are signs that the team is following along the same lines. Some heart was gained when Jarrett Jack moved into the starting lineup and found a role where he could mesh and lead on both ends of the court. Some heart was gained when Antoine Wright didn’t push for minutes when he wasn’t healthy enough to be effective, and then worked hard to get his shot working once he could be effective (and those threes are going to be as big as the injection of heart). Some heart was gained when Andrea Bargnani pumped his fist and celebrated with a team that no longer stood a little bit apart from him. You can feel it in the air. There is a living, breathing heart to this team.
Teams without heart do not win games before and after Christmas, or before and after the All-Star break. This team needs to beat Memphis to take care of all of those situations and demonstrate to themselves that there are absolutely no games that they will let slip away. Before now, it was a case of not being able to afford to lose such games. Now they are six games above the .500 mark that they worked to reach for so long. There could be a sense of satisfaction and a sense of some leeway gained. But they need to show the heart that they have gained instead.
Then they need to look at the teams ahead of them, and like Houston last season, simply not allow themselves to think they will lose against the elite. If Hedo’s heart is in it like it seldom has so far, and a few other role players evolve into consistently effective pieces, then they will have every right to put their accumulated heart on display. And going into the playoffs in such a state will mean everything to what is finally decided between Bosh and Colangelo, whether they win or lose. The proper display of heart will mean everything this time around. Fine-tuning it into the heart of a champion would be the next task at hand. Are you ready to supply a little oxygen?