I’m not going to dwell on last night’s game.
First off, both teams looked their minds were still in Phoenix.
Second, Nathan Jawai played five minutes.
Need I say more?
Bottom line here is that until Chris Bosh returns to the Toronto Raptors, there are going to be many more games like this. Minus Bosh and now Jermaine O’Neal due to the trade, and with Jose Calderon still looking less than 100 per cent, this team is going to struggle to score, as they are that much more reliant on hitting jumpers.
And last night those jumpers simply missed, and missed, and missed and on the evening the Dinos shot a woeful 36.5 per cent.
Add in the fact that Toronto was playing perhaps the league’s premier defensive team, one who really ratcheted up the pressure after the first quarter, and you get a 93 to 76 loss.
The funny thing is, this didn’t seem to me like that big of a blowout.
Yes, the Raps almost lost by 20, but it was such a herky jerky game that if the Raptors had just knocked down a few more shots, things might have gotten interesting. Cleveland, who turned the ball over 20 times, kept giving Toronto chances but the Dinos just couldn’t capitalize.
And that brings me to Mr. Marion and Mr. Banks.
The two former UNLV Running Rebels made their debut for Toronto last night and while neither exactly exploded off the stat-sheet, there were some positives to be had.
With Marion in tow, the Raptors admittedly looked like a different club early on, getting out and running at each opportunity, and even attempting some risky passes in traffic that you probably wouldn’t have seen a week ago. Marion finished with 10 points on four of nine shooting to go with six rebounds, six assists, two blocks and a steal. They weren’t Lebron’s near triple-double stats, but considering it was his first game in a Raptors’ uniform, that’s not a bad start. Marion was active at both ends, looked to get out and push the ball at every opportunity and I really believe that he’ll be a better fit for this team than O’Neal was. Watch last night’s game again and you’ll see Marion moving without the ball and doing "the little things" that Jamario Moon never did. I’m excited to see him next to Bosh and Bargs, and hopefully that trifecta can assemble sooner rather than later.
That being said, last night’s game should tell Bryan Colangelo everything he needs to know for this summer; this team still desperately needs a guard who can create his own shot.
Marion will be able to fill lanes and glide to the rim off cuts to the hoop but when the shot clock gets down under eight, the Raptors still need someone who can create something. Marion is a very good all-around player, but I just hope that Bryan Colangelo doesn’t mistake his acquisition as the move that helps the Toronto Raptors take the proverbial "next step." Last night TO’s hired gun-slingers Jason Kapono, and Anthony Parker were an unsightly six of 22, an occurrence that’s been all-too common this season. I know BC has professed his fondness for both players but if one or the other, or even both packaged together, could bring back someone who could create off the dribble at the 2 or 3 spot, Colangelo has to look into it.
This is even more true considering that many teams seem to be looking to dump salary right now, and players with expiring contracts like Parker and Graham could always rejoin Toronto in the off-season.
As for Banks, he did play some solid D at times, and exploded to the hoop on a few occasions. He's already looking like a better option than Solomon...but that's not really saying anything.
The other thing that last night proved based on the rebounding disparity is that minus Bosh (and one could argue that even with CB4), this team needs some serious help up front. It was nice to see Nathan Jawai get a few minutes but if Colangelo TRULY has playoff aspirations, big Nate isn’t going to be nearly enough.
(As an aside, now that the Tyson Chandler trade has been rescinded, how about making a play for Chris Wilcox? He’s an athletic rebounder who can get up and down the court and whose contract expires at season’s end?)
The star of last night’s game in my books for the Raptors?
How about Joey Graham?
Graham only hit six of his 16 shots but he was aggressive and is already a superior "off the dribble" option than Marion. I can’t believe I’m saying this but Colangelo should be doing everything he can to bring Joey G back next year. Of course, if another team starts throwing ridiculous sums at Graham, then BC should look in another direction but this a player I want as a sixth or seventh man off the bench for TO next year. Graham continues to display some traits absent from the rest of this club and could be one of those key bench guys all good teams need.
But right now this is hardly a good team.
It’s one lacking depth, rebounding, interior scoring…yeah, just about everything. And while we’ve criticized Colangelo for some of his bigger moves, one last thing that stood out in yesterday evening’s match was how much more effective Cleveland’s bench was. I’m not talking about just the likes of JJ Hickson (8 points and 8 boards and who Toronto brought in TWICE last year in pre-draft workouts) but how about Tarence Kinsey? Kinsey actually started due to the Cavs’ injury situation but it’s guys like this that Howland and I have professed love for for years, and our calls have fallen on deaf ears. These guys aren’t going to carry your team throughout the season, but they’re the tough, gritty types that make a difference off the bench.
That’s the Raptors story but it was also interesting to catch Miami in action last night against Minnesota to see the debut of Jermaine O’Neal and Jamario Moon. O’Neal started strong but had only one rebound and had to leave for a chunk of the game with an eye injury. Moon played only about five minutes and it was a very entertaining period. During that stretch, Miami’s 10 point lead shrunk to none, and the Heat announcers seemed to be a bit shocked by how ineffective Moon was defensively. I like Jamario, but the whole situation made me smile as it once again showed how "experts" south of the border really don’t have much of a clue when it comes to the Raps and their players.
So onto New York now for a back-to-back and two crucial games. For those thinking there’s still a shot at the playoffs the games are crucial in that capacity but for the rest of us, the games are more crucial in the sense of "how effective can Bosh, Bargs and Marion be together."
And that’s assuming Bosh plays, and Jose can summon up a better performance than last night’s three assist gem. Roko, who fans are looking to nickname, was a better option I found even though he only had one assist himself.
The Knicks can beat the Spurs one night and lose to the Clippers the next so these next two matches should prove very interesting.
Toronto will definitely get a chance to test out its new running style…I’m just hoping there’s enough players available for them to do it with.
PS – The latest edition of the Carnival of the NBA is up at www.waitingfornextyear.com!