Archive for March, 2010

26′ed


Happy 26th Birthday Chris Bosh. Your team lost by 26 points. Same amount as your previous home game - an early present? The most your team was able to score in any of the four quarters was 26. The least you were able to hold the opposing team to in any quarter was 26. There was a fat lady eating nachos (26 bucks with a beer) in the lower endzone section, row 26, seat 26. She booed your ass 26 times by my count. She might have been screaming “happy BOOOOOOOirthday” but I don’t think so.

Your teammate, Hedo Turkoglu, number 26, fell ill halfway through. He chose the number for the date on which his daughter was born. I imagine him speaking to his baby daughter over the phone before the game. She has not said her first words yet. He keeps trying to get her to say “ball”. He repeats it into the phone. Over and over again. “Ball.Ball.Ball.” All she does is bawl. Hedo is stricken with an existential angst that eats away at his insides. That means he gives up on his team halfway through the game. Perhaps for the 26th time? That means that Antoine Wright gets to play 26 minutes. He takes advantage by missing six of seven shots beyond the arc. The one he makes is from 26 feet out. It was just his way of saying happy birthday.

There was 13 games remaining - which equals one half of 26. It’s also the number of Patrick O’Bryant. He didn’t get to play, but he probably got to go to the party. He probably brought a 26 ounce bottle of here-for-a-good-time-not-a-long-time. I could have used some of that.

There are 26 red cards and 26 black cards in a deck. Shuffle the red and the black any way you want. The joker is staring you in the face. Sleep off that sad-ass game. Sleep off the party. I’ll be able to forget if it doesn’t happen again. But never ever again. Otherwise I’ll do more than sleep it off. I’ll just go to sleep. Because the 26th letter of the alphabet is Z. zzzzzzzzzzzzz…

Entropy


At the end of January some scientists down in Australia concluded that the universe is 30 times more disorderly than previously thought. And the Raptors seem to have taken those conclusions to heart. Right now, with 13 games left, this team needs to fight against the tendencies of entropy. They can start against the Jazz, and maybe they should consider how jazz itself is something of an aural representation of entropy, at it’s best when it’s close to breaking apart and ultimately bringing a momentary transcendent order within our grasp, in the midst of combustive energies. That’s the task at hand for the Dinosaur team. They need to make some sweet music in this moment. They need to look dead-on at the current random nature of their play, and fight against complete disintegration, then strike some positive notes that give them some validity as a playoff team, whether they make it as an eighth seed or higher.

It’s time for them to start playing playoff basketball from here on in. If they can’t muster the appearance of playoff intensity now, then they are going to look like they do not belong in the post-season at all. They will just be the random team laid bare for the upper tier teams. They will be the face of entropy. They will be just another NBA black hole. A total collapse now is going to impact this team for at least another season, and likely much longer.

And so it is time for Triano to earn his paycheque. He needs to figure this team out for real. I don’t doubt that he has a good grasp of basketball. I agree with much of how he looks at the game. But he has to find a much better understanding of how this team fits within his ideals. If he keeps trotting out ten guys in the rotation, and trying to work everything around keeping both point guards happy, then entropy will not be contained. If he keeps handing out paltry amounts of playing time to Amir Johnson, game in and game out, then how is he going to harness some of that energy that provides a rare example of overachieving here? It’s time to take any examples of play that provide a steady beat, expand some roles accordingly, and ride those rhythms. If there is discord on the bench that is one thing to deal with. Discord on the floor is something that is not going to be transcended at this point. There is no time or space left for problem avoidance. The time for real problem-solving, as imperfect as it may seem, is at hand. If Triano cannot figure out this team’s best shot at making harmony where it counts, then his future involves being sucked into the black hole of his own making.

Of course the guy he needs to lean on the most is Chris Bosh. If he is going to prove his worth to this team, or any team, then he needs to take the shortened rotation that we will hopefully see take shape, and make it look like it belongs in the playoffs. He needs to bring possibilities back into play. More than anything, he needs to make for enough of an overall improvement on defense to allow them a chance to win every game from here on out. If he fails to do that, then in spite of a big chunk of the season where he was an all-NBA calibre player, it’s hard for me to see where any team rewards him with the kind of contract and recognition he’s looking for. Yes, there has been some difficulties beyond his control. But this is a mere 13 games. 13 games in which everything needs to be very clear in spite of difficulties. Surely he can at least give his team a chance to overcome the entropy that has crept into the picture. If not - there is a black hole swirling in the shadow of those locks.

Please Chris and Jay - bring some sense of order and structure into play again. Win enough games to show a marked improvement over last season, and do so in a manner that makes that improvement firm and viable going forward. Make every bit of progress at least a reality that is not so easily questioned. And then each of you will have earned the right to go on, together or apart, with some sense of legitimacy to build upon. And whether or not you continue on together with this franchise, the team will still benefit far more from that taste of legitimacy as opposed to simply surrendering to entropy.

Smegmania


Everyone has been looking for that one right word to express what has been going on with the Raptors. There was a whole thread of one-word descriptions on RF, most of them pretty unappetizing. Eric Smith said he couldn’t find any words to do the job. Jack Armstrong came up with “soul”, before going on to say the team was searching for their true identity. Then last night he hesitantly pronounced “fragile”, before the Raptors failed to actually break, and instead showed some pretty good resiliency, thereby keeping that identity, even in it’s most negative sense, elusive and happily in the shadows.

I have found myself in love with the entire roster as much, if not more than any other assembled cast in Toronto. At the same time, almost every single one of these guys has maddeningly disappointed to varying degrees at some point. A single word will not do. I am left standing under the bright lights, like Eve Plumb appearing along with the rest of the Brady Bunch cast members, on the Weakest Link, and with no answer to give the mean lady with the british accent, and the clock ticking. She offered the perfect all-encapsulating word instead, if for no other reason than just the sound of it. And besides providing me with one of my all-time TV watching memories, she maybe gave me the only way to respond to the last part of this season. Thank you Eve Plumb for looking into the camera and saying simply, “smegma”.

Smegma is made when microscopic protrusions of the mucosal surface of the foreskin undergo fatty degeneration, separate off, and form oozy stuff which on it’s own might seem rather disgusting, but which when seen as nature’s lubricant, gains a little more value. There you have it. Smegma.

Now not everything tied to our desires is all pretty and smelling of perfume. There is a good deal of icky stuff involved in the process of fulfilling those desires. And the icky stuff seems to be what this season is all about. Which means that next season could be orgasmic. Of course that’s a little hard to fathom right now, but there is a good deal of internal improvement that can be had on this team. And it’s not in the realm of the impossible to see the weakest link - defending on the perimeter - fixed with the right addition and subtraction. And with another season under their belts, this roster will have fewer Fake Jans crying “BoshaBoshaBosha” and a better sense of how the roles fit together properly.

The biggest questions would have to be whether Triano proves to be the right guy to go into the next season as head coach, whether Hedo has anything left in the tank, and whether Bosh has the legs that this team wants to be tied to long-term. The answer to such questions? Smegma. Because it worked for me when Eve Plumb said it. Smegma. Say it as a curse word or say it as an exclamation of joy. It works as well as the F-word for me. Smegma. It helps to breakthrough all the tensions of anticipation. Say it loud and clear.

Seriously though, those legs of Bosh’s have a habit of getting in the way of him becoming all-NBA. I just hope someone knows whether he can get them to work for a full season and prove that this season has been the beginning of reaching towards irrefutable all-NBA status, and not the beginning of the end of his talent being grounded by a lack of quickness and lift for the rest of his career. I’m hoping for nature’s lubricant to emerge, if you will, and not for a great boner to start drooping, but mostly I’m hoping that there is more than just hope involved amongst those who will decide what Mr. Bosh’s value is. Ideally, he gets his money, puts in more work and gets those wheels under him for a full run. Alternatively - well who knows. I would guess we’d be wishing for smegma, wishing to be anticipating something. Only time will tell. This might just be a small disappointment that is soon forgotten, or it is a small disappointment that grows larger.

Disappointments come all the time, but they do have a way of allowing for some good things to follow. Keeping it all in perspective is important. It’s like how I went looking for a great deal on Guinness today - the day after St. Patrick’s Day - thinking it was going to be like buying chocolate after Halloween and Easter. Great idea right? Stock up for the whole spring on the cheap leftovers. Well it didn’t really work out as I thought it should. But even though I didn’t get cheap Guinness, I still got some Guinness. So I raise a glass and say, “smegma”.

1M Olympics


First of all, lets make no mistake about it - the necessary improvement with this Raptors team needs to come on the defensive end. It’s really too bad that they could not continue playing very well together as a group, as they were before the All-Star break. On both ends the concentration and focus was there before. Now these guys are looking like complete strangers again. There is too much looking for one guy to create stops, rather than to be a part of five guys all adding to the effectiveness of the defense from the point of attack to securing the rebounds.

Yet as much as the defense is a sore spot, I still find the way they play on the offensive end to be a part of the problem. The shot selection, and the way that shots are settled for without making the opposing defenses work, leads to a whole lot of transition points going the other way. The play on the offensive end mirrors what happens on the defensive end. There’s just not a great idea of what each guy needs to be doing to add to the sum of the parts. There is a positive trend towards driving to the basket and scoring in the paint. It’s nice to see that they do not need to be defined as a jump shooting team. But there are also many negatives in that trend. There is so much rushing involved in trying to get the ball inside. The entry passes are forced and all-too-often to the other team. The drives are often forced as well, not originating from any openings, but rather just heading into multiple defenders with no sense of exploiting any options. It’s no wonder that there ends up being so many turnovers and so many less-than-optimal shots taken.

In the end, opposing defenses only require the simplest of schemes to gain momentum in games. Defend the paint. That’s it. Let the Raptors continue to try to force plays into a crowd. And let them settle for the odd outside jumper that will have a good chance of leading to a head start the other way. The Raptors lack range. They do not have anyone that wants to shoot for the big score from the outside. Bargnani has all but completely lost his touch from long-distance. Jose needs to get a boost of confidence before he is willing to unveil his antler-revue. Wright and Jack have trouble making up their minds as to whether they will be ready to shoot or drive. And so defenses just don’t have to work very hard. The Raptors still get their points, but they come from an awful lot of effort from a lot of guys that need to be putting the bulk of their efforts in on the defensive end. There is a lot of scrambling to get close to the basket without rhyme or reason. Instead of an inside-out game, there’s just a lot of looking for space inside that isn’t there. So, they start with a deficit of long-range threats, and then end-up needing to change their shots from point-blank range. Pretty much everyone has missed multiple layups in this extended stretch of ineffective play. Poor Demar doesn’t miss as much as he just gets shots blocked and his ass drilled into the floor. With defenses laying in wait, and so few openings created, there are not a lot of trips to the free throw line. The way the the Raptors are playing right now just allows for bad teams to equalize opportunities and go on runs, and good teams to dominate.

It would all be great if these guys were in training for the 1 Meter Olympiad; you know - where people of any shape, size or ability throw on the tight body suits and wait for the starter’s gun. No matter what your athletic skills overall, it’s going to be a close call at the finish. Mind you the 1M Olympics would be far more entertaining than the Raptors are right now. I could go for watching a lot of lunging on skates and skis. Swimming would consist of contests to see who makes contact with the bottom of the pool first. The 4×1M hurdle relay would be something to watch.

But back in the real world the playoffs are either approaching or falling from their grasp. Either way, they need to get Bosh and Turkoglu incorporated in an offense that brings some rhythm and flow and free throw attempts back into games, while allowing guys like Jarrett Jack, Antoine Wright, Reggie Evans, and Amir Johnson to save a lot more for defense.

Ultimately though, assuming that they are going to find the right balance again and make it into the playoffs, they are going to need to find some range. The teams at the top of the standings are going to turn games into three point contests if they can. They are going to push things out further out on the perimeter, and if Toronto goes back to forcing the ball inside they will have no hope. They are going to have to at least establish a modest threat from long-range and make defenses put in some work to take some outside options away. The more the Raptors work on their 1M competitions, the more they help opposing teams race the full distance in transition. If they are going to make the playoffs, they better at least look like they belong there, in the real deal, and not in some mock version that someone who isn’t getting out enough, like myself, might have just made up while lying on the couch.

Yet Another Corner to Get Around


It seemed like it happened already. There was Andrea Bargnani, playing some very nice help defense, blocking shots, playing with energy, bringing home a win with Bosh out of the lineup. Cue Colangelo blathering on about the man’s greatness to a couple of puckhead radio guys. Jay was doing a great job with Bargnani. Andrea was understanding what he could do out there, establishing himself in this league and becoming the player they had all imagined when he was picked at number one. He had definitely turned the corner.

Well, around every corner is another corner. Andrea has shown what he can do. Now he needs to do it with some consistency. Against sub-par teams, and in home games, it’s hard not to be happy with his game. Against stiffer competition, particularly while on the road, the drop-off is dramatic. There is no reason for this team to lose three games in a row, with or without Bosh. But if Bargnani fails to bring any energy to games, then the losing streak could seem endless. He becomes a 7-foot barrier to success. Colangelo goes in hiding. Jay Triano looks like the main character in a Lost spinoff series.

Nobody knows this better than my pal Mochi, the recently neutered wonder-poodle. He pays close attention to all of my bellowing as he follows the squeaky-shoe-goings-on. For some time he looked to be convinced that the name of the guy wearing number 7 was Fuck-Yes. He sees the number 7 and hears “FUCK YES!” again and again. Mochi starts to really like this Fuck-Yes guy. It’s all high-fives and hugs, and when Devlin does his Snickers promo, and I direct my own “get some nuts” at the wonder-poodle himself, it’s like I’m laughing with him, and not at him.

But then confusion starts to settle in for poor Mochi. Is this a different number 7? An imposter? Because now his name seems to be Killme, and this Killme guy brings an entirely different vibe. “Get some nuts” sounds so dark and sinister as to provoke a little bit of nervous retching and a barf stain of the carpet.

There are 82 games in the schedule. Can we please just get the same guy wearing number 7 in each of them? Is that too much to ask? Can they do it for Mochi?

Last night in OKC, the guy was floating through half of the third quarter before he had registered a single rebound for the entire game. I was waiting for Devlin to tell a story about how Marco chose the number zero, because that is how many rebounds he expected his compatriot to register on most nights. And then he finally grabs one, although grab is not the right word. Rebound number one comes when he makes no effort to box out Nick Collison, but the ball comes off long, over Collison’s outstretched hands, and bounces on the floor before Bargnani decides he might as well reach out and get it. KILL ME!

Now some will be disappointed that he didn’t get a lot of shots. But let’s be clear here - the team should not be required to make something happen for Andrea Bargnani. Il Mago should be making something happen for the team, and the team can take it from there. If he decides to be part of this team then good things will happen for him. The touches and shots and scoring will come when he brings some energy and impacts the game by being an active seven-footer instead of a seven-foot pile of sludge that sees Jeff Green driving in from the perimeter, but manages to do nothing but stand to one side and wave his arm in Green’s direction. Green comes in from the right means waving the right arm. Green coming in from the left means waving the left arm. And if a step or two is taken to help out, then forget about rotating back to your man Andrea, just wave one arm and then another. Presto! You’re a magician right? Why do you have that look on your face that seems to want to be able to just make the whole state of Oklahoma disappear? Wave an arm and make it happen, or bring a wand next time.

Now I’m completely with my pal Mochi in wanting the real magic to return. Bring back the high fives. It’s time to see some of that much ballyhooed accountability in action. If it looks like Andrea is going to play a solid five minutes and not a second more, then sit him down. I’m all for him playing through some mistakes, but only if those mistakes require a pulse. Make him pay the price for not bringing a consistent effort, instead of making the team, me, and Mochi pay the price. Force him to turn that final corner and make the magic real and reliable.

When your seven-footer looks like he’s waving a white flag early on, it’s hard to miss. There are 82 games, and there are none left in this schedule that can allow for anymore of that. It’s time for the big man to turn that final corner - making something positive happen anytime he’s on the floor - before this team can head down the stretch into the playoffs, and feel like they can compete anytime against anybody.

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