Lacing Them Up:
So the playoff schedule is out. Sort of a wacky one but works well for discussion and recaps.
No idea what Canadian coverage will amount to yet but so far, it looks like things jump off in Orlando this Sunday at 12:30.
Game 2 goes Tuesday at 7:30 in Disneyland and therefore the third game of the series is slated for Thursday, the 24th, also at 7:30, back in the T-Dot.
After that, Toronto’s next home-game is on Saturday, April 26 at 3 p.m.
Then we get into the "if necessary’s." Game 5 would be Monday, April 28 in Orlando and Game 6 would be back in Toronto on May 1 (a Thursday) but there’s no time set for it or Game 7 as of yet. However the seventh game would be Saturday, May 3 in Orlando.
The Raptors have scouted the Magic in their final two games even sending assistant coach Jay Triano to watch Orlando play Atlanta on Tuesday night. We’ll get into our series thoughts tomorrow but for now, let’s put a capper on this season.
Toronto played well early, and then took their pedal off the metal late last night as the Chicago Bulls came away with a 107 to 97 victory.
It was hardly an impressive display, and many were probably enjoying seeing some of the bench crew more than caring about a final score. Nevertheless, there were a few things that once again stood out in my mind as the Raptors prepare for Orlando.
1) This team really needs to address its rebounding issues this off-season. Yeah, no news flash here but watching Aaron Gray of Pitt fame go for almost 20 and 20 against Toronto’s second unit was simply disgusting. Gray is a big body, and probably a better player than his immediate "big slow white guy" image indicates, (after all, he’s turned out to be a way better pro than his more athletic counterpart from PITT, Chris Taft), but there’s no way he should be putting up numbers like this. Bryan Colangelo needs to rethink this whole "if we have better shooters, we have less rebounds to get" ideology.
2) Toronto also needs some serious defensive help at the wing spots. Again, nothing new but Tyrus Thomas and even players like Thabo Sefolosha had no problem carving up the Raps’ defense. Thomas in fact showed last night why he was selected so high in the draft and why he was my top choice for Toronto. His athletic ability is almost unparalleled and when he’s focussed, can be a real stopper on D. He looks like he needs a serious mentor and a change of scenery but let me ask you this; would you rather have him coming off the bench for 20-25 minutes a game at the 3-4 or Andrea right now? The bottom line here is that every somewhat athletic player in the league ranging from Kobe Bryant to Daequan Cook, has given Toronto problems this season.
3) I can’t wait for the house-cleaning to begin. Right now there’s only about six guys from this current Raptor squad that I want to see back next year. Sure, Primoz Beeker’s unintentional comedy factor is off the charts (the dude runs like Donald Duck and definitely has the league’s smallest technical foul to minutes played ratio in the league), but he and some other guys need to find new homes come July 1.
Howland mentioned a few more things to me post-game including the fact that "if Jack doesn't call ball games next year I may need to start drinking during broadcasts."
He also noted that besides it being nice to see everyone play, he couldn’t help but think that someone out of the guys who usually ride the pine will be called on more than expected in the upcoming series...likely Hump, and maybe even some Primoz. After all, Toronto may need to use 24 fouls on Dwight right?
What really caught his attention though was that BC, Gheradini and some of the other MLSE brain-trust were in attendance and Howland just can’t shake the feeling that someone on that Bulls roster will be on the Raps next year.
Nocioni? Deng? Thabo? Duhon?
Howland could visualize any of these guys on the Raps. Nocioni would be a great addition as he would add grit, decent rebounding and a winning attitude, all things this team needs. Plus he shoots pretty well which BC will like. And it really looks like Colangelo is thinking about next year already.
As for the Bulls, Howland mentioned to me that what people like Charles Barkley were saying about the Bulls was bang on. They missed their chance by not dealing some young guys for a star like Gasol or Garnett. Who would have thought Ainge would outdo Paxon? The young guys on this team are still solid, but some of the sheen has worn off.
I’d have to agree and it’s going to be really interesting to see which direction the Bulls move this off-season. Do they rebuild? Do they simply tinker with the current pieces they have? Big decisions obviously need to be made in regards to Ben Gordon and Luol Deng and to a lessor degree, Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah. Do the Bulls move one of these young chips in effort to get veteran help? With another high draft pick this year, Chicago could put together a pretty enticing package still and look to make a push to return to the playoffs.
After all, they are in the Eastern Conference.
Moving On –
So the playoffs, start Sunday.
It’s pretty surreal in many ways considering at various points this season, it felt like they were never going to come.
While Toronto finished on a losing note, and ended up as a .500 team (41 wins and 41 losses), hopefully Sunday will represent a whole new beginning. The starters last night looked focussed to me in limited minutes, and anxious to get on to the next stage.
They’ll now get that chance and hopefully be able to erase what was a topsy-turvy season.
Get out that etch-a-sketch.
Forget the last 82 games.
It’s playoffs time.