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Old 12-21-2011, 07:21 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default ESPN Eastern Conference Predictions

NBA -- Eastern Conference projected standings - ESPN

1. Heat
2. Bulls
3. Celtics
4. Magic
5. Sixers
6. Pacers
7. Knicks
8. Deers
9. Hawks
10. Nets
11. Wizards / Pistons
13. Raptors
14. Cavs
15. Pussycats

13. Toronto Raptors (19-47)

Toronto has finally come to grips with reality. No longer are the Raps delusional about loading up on mediocre veterans with long-term deals, nor about winning games without bothering to play defense. With Toronto again last in Defensive Efficiency in 2010-11, the overmatched Jay Triano was finally shown the door. Replacing him is former Dallas zone defense maestro Dwane Casey, who now must upgrade one of the most pathetic defensive outfits in league annals.

Central to Casey's cause is center Andrea Bargnani, who is offensively gifted but remains one of the most clueless off-ball defenders in the game. He's mobile for his size though, and the Raps may experiment with playing him at power forward periodically now that they have some genuine size. Don't be surprised if 7-footers Solomon Alabi and Aaron Gray get a fair amount of run.

Alas, they also have to clear minutes for Ed Davis, a revelation as a high-percentage finisher a year ago, but one who needs to add strength to battle NBA big men. Ditto for Amir Johnson, who quietly had a strong season last year but like his frontcourt mates, suffers from a lack of lower-body strength at the defensive end.

In fact, Toronto's frontcourt looks pretty darn good going forward. First-round pick Jonas Valuncianas won't be coming over this season, but at only 19 years of age, he ranks among the best players in Europe and looks like a star in the making. He and Davis could be a fearsome combo in five years; Bargnani, whatever you think of him, would make for a pretty potent sixth man in that arrangement.

On the wing, DeMar DeRozan flashed some star potential as a scorer, but the rest of his game lies dormant; he needs to pass the ball once in a while and play some defense. Small forward looms as a huge weakness, although the talented but ridiculously mistake-prone James Johnson remains intriguing. And at the point, Jose Calderon is a flawless offensive operator and a traffic cone for opposing point guards.

Big picture, there are a lot of problems here beyond Casey's control -- team president Bryan Colangelo invested almost entirely in offensive players, so the result is again likely to be a decent offense paired with a hopeless defense. But if Casey can persuade his charges -- particularly Bargnani -- to compete and at least use their length as a deterrent, the Raptors' D should be less of an embarrassment.
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