In his preview of tonight's match against New Orleans, Franchise turns to the blogosphere for some insight on the opponent in the first of the season's weekly, "Blogging With the Enemy" features...
So now we get to find out just how ready this Raptor team is.
Seven of the next eight on the road, many of these against the league's elite, and not much of a chance to work on the finer aspects of getting nine new players involved at both ends of the court.
Yes, life in the NBA...
...or should we say, life in the NBA for the Toronto Raptors, who always seem to kick off their season with a merciless schedule up until the New Year.
No excuses however, as their first opponent on small 3 game Western swing is having issues itself, starting the season with a 1 and 3 record before grabbing a big W Wednesday night in an OT win over Dallas.
Indeed the New Orleans Hornets have not started the season perhaps the way they expected, but as we hear from Hornets Hype.com's leading lady, Sarah Tolcser, aka ticktock6, the media is blowing the slow start way out of proportion. She leads off our first "Blogging With the Enemy" of the season...
1) RaptorsHQ: So obviously one of the hot-button topics in the NBA right now is Chris Paul, and his frustration with what's going with his team. Give us your take on this and the Hornets, in particular regarding where you see the club finishing in the West if the roster stays status quo?
HornetsHype: I feel two ways about this. First, I believe it's all being blown way out of proportion by the national media, trying to create a stir where there's not necessarily something there. Just for an example, Chris gave a quote over the summer saying, fairly generically, "I think it's stupid to say that any player in the NBA is ever safe from being traded" and it generated a week of headlines like "CHRIS PAUL THINKS HE IS LIKELY TO BE TRADED BY CASH-STRAPPED HORNETS." He said he regretted that Tyson Chandler and Rasual Butler had to go, because they were friends, and we got "CHRIS PAUL UPSET WITH MANAGEMENT OVER TRADES". I'm sure Raptors fans go through a certain amount of this with Chris Bosh. Is Chris Paul upset that the Hornets are 2-3? Yes. Is he going to throw the guys on the team-- including six new guys-- under the bus this early? No, because he's just not that kind of guy. Blowing up incidents with Rajon Rondo and Al Harrington might be fun for media members looking for a story, but if you watch a lot of Chris Paul you know he's really not acting any different than he usually acts on the court. All these "CHRIS PAUL'S SMILE IS GONE" articles kind of overlook the fact that... has CP ever smiled on a court? Second, I just fail to see how Chris Paul, David West, and Emeka Okafor alone wouldn't carry a team to at least a playoff spot. They won't look this bad all year. I'm looking at a lower playoff seed.
2) RHQ: Does Byron Scott last the season? Or is he simply the scapegoat for an ownership that's pinching pennies and not giving CP3 enough help?
HH: I think Byron Scott probably will last the season, unless the team goes into a serious freefall, but they just won't renew his contract, which is up at the end of the year. My Byron Scott issue stems from a certain stubbornness that he's always had, especially when it comes to rookies and young players. He's a player's player, a veteran's man. He never saw a hard-working 32-yr-old journeyman he didn't like. And fans are worried because, seeing as this is not a championship year, there's no reason not to be developing the team's 2 draft picks, who have yet to see game minutes. As far as the ownership goes, they made several savvy moves to get almost under the luxury tax, and will probably try to dump a bench guy by the deadline to get all the way under. You can blame ownership for not spending, but it is just a reality that no one is going to take the $15M Peja is owed for the next two seasons. Or James Posey or Morris Peterson at $5M-ish each. There's all this pinching pennies talk, but what would these people suggest the Hornets do? They didn't have cap space to sign a good free agent. They tried to trade those contracts and couldn't. I think CP3 and everyone else is aware that the team's in a holding pattern, waiting for the time when Peja's expiring contract can be turned into a young athletic shooting guard who can take CP & company to the next level.
3) RHQ: Keys to tonight's game. What do the Hornets need to do to get the W?
HH: Play with the fire they had against Dallas Wednesday night. It was one of those miraculous tie-it-at-the-buzzer overtime wins, and I'm glad they got it, because it was the best they've looked yet. The defense, which had been giving up points in the paint like freebies, looked sharper. The Hornets usually shoot the3-ball bizarrely well against Toronto for whatever reason, so clearly they should go ahead and do that again. (Haha!) David West and Emeka Okafor will have to communicate better, because the match-up of the bigs will be key. Bobby Brown, CP's backup/shooting guard hybrid/fellow short person, will need to be restrained from gunning and focus himself on getting Peja involved early. And finally the Hornets will have to be at home-- and oh hey, fortunately they are!-- since they're 0-3 on the road.
Thanks to Sarah for her take on all things New Orleans, especially the reality check on the Chris Paul situation. As she noted, this is something us Raptor fanatics have had to deal with for quite some time regarding Chris Bosh, so we probably understand all too well where she's coming from.
But now let's take a look at the Raptors' side of the coin as they try to start the 3-game western trip with a W. And to do that, here are our 3 keys.
1) Control the Paint:
Bargnani looked good against Detroit on Wednesday night, dominating on offense, and more than holding his own on the glass and on D. However that was also against an aging Ben Wallace, a nearly invisible Charlie Villanueva, and the biggest lottery bust of all time, Kwame Brown. It will be quite a different challenge to face the shot-blocking Emeka Okafor and the low-post bulldog known as David West. Both he and Bosh should have their hands full and whoever comes out on top in this battle I predict will determine the game's outcome. Bargs needs to take advantage of his quickness and range to draw Okafor away from the rim, while Bosh needs to keep West on his toes with both an inside and outside offensive arsenal.
Interestingly, the Hornets despite West and Okafor (and Paul, a great rebounder for his position) are one of the league's worst on the glass so there's no excuse for Toronto to allow numerous second-chance opportunities.
2) Pick up the Pace:
Despite having Mr. CP3 running the show, the Hornets actually play at a relatively slow pace. The team many times prefers to set-up in half-court allowing West to work off the low blocks, hopefully opening up 3-point looks for Peja Stojakovic and former Rap, Morris Peterson.
My hope tonight is that Toronto therefore gets out and runs, using the likes of Hedo Turkoglu and DeMar DeRozan to get easy baskets in transition before New Orleans can set up defensively. Toronto used this type of attack effectively in wins over both Detroit and Cleveland, and I'm hoping to see more of it tonight.
Of course this means doing a good job on the glass and on D in order to get stops and head back the other way, and of course this means keeping Chris Paul in check. Like Lebron James, you're never going to stop Paul completely, but it's paramount that Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack keep CP3 from constantly getting into the paint and getting Toronto's defence back on its heels.
3) Bench Play:
Outside of the match-ups down low, I think this is going to be the biggest key to a Raptor victory. Yes, it would be nice if Calderon and Jack outplayed Chris Paul, but based on what we've seen so far this season, I can't see that happening. Instead, Toronto needs to take advantage of its depth to secure this W, much like they did against Detroit two nights ago. Players like Jack, Amir Johnson and Marco Belinelli came off the pine to give Toronto some very efficient minutes, and that needs to continue, especially with Reggie Evans still out due to injury. New Orleans just doesn't have much of a bench right now, relying on the likes of Hilton Armstrong, Bobby Brown, rookie Darren Collison, James Posey, and Devin Brown (although Posey and Brown have been thorns in the Raptors' sides in past matches.) The Dinos need to take advantage in this area and give the team a lift when the starters are taking a break.
And besides, doesn't everyone want to see the real marquee match-up tonight?
The one that pits Hilton Armstrong against Patrick O'Bryant?
We'll have our live game-feed dialed in for the tip-off so drop by if you feel like talking some Raps, or venting about anything else going on in the league.