The Toronto Raptors look to even their pre-season record tonight with a game against the Knicks in good ol' Montreal. The HQ breaks it down...
Remember that chant from last year's Evans return?
Well we may be hearing fans making that same call as the season progresses if Mr. Evans continues to put in performances like he did in Toronto's last two pre-season games.
Earlier in the week I compared Evans to Dennis Rodman, and while I noted the differences between the two players, if Evans continues to rebound at his current rate (about 12 boards a game over his last three matches), he won't be too far off in many ways.
But it's not just his rebounding that's impressed me.
Over that three game span he's also averaged about two assists and only taken about 3 shots a night.
Even in the loss to the Bulls, there he was again, hauling in boards and looking to kick the ball back out or reset the offence. It's a huge difference maker as extra possessions equals extra scoring opportunities for the Raptors, something I think this somewhat streaky offence will need this season, as well as fewer scoring opportunities for opponents.
All of that means a better chance for Toronto to win each and every game.
Against the Knicks in their final game of the pre-season, I'll be first and foremost looking at Reggie as my first key.
1) Reggie Rodman: The Knicks of course acquired Amar'e Stoudemire in the off-season but beyond him, there's not a lot of size with this group. (And no, Eddy Curry on the bench doesn't count.)
In fact aside from Ronny Turiaf, the team will need to depend on newcomer Timofey Mozgov and more finesse bigs like Danilo Gallinari and Anthony Randolph. This bodes well for the Raptors this evening who crushed a similarly undersized Suns front-court recently, and leading this charge tonight I'm hoping is Reggie Evans. He may not end up defending Stoudemire, that could be Andrea's task, but regardless, he needs to set the tone early for his club and help the team maximize offensive possessions against a very high-powered Knicks group of scorers.
2) Jose Calderon: Is Jose done? That's what a number of folks have been wondering both in our online chats and in the comments sections of late. It may sound a bit harsh, but if you had to point out the most disappointing player for Toronto this pre-season, I'd bet most would point to Mr. Calderon, especially of late since Bargs found his shooting touch.
So what gives?
Lack of confidence?
Or is it simply that as a 29 year old point guard, he's hit that phase of his career where he simply can't do the things he once did.
The problem of course with this is that defensively he's never been a lock-down player, but his offensive game was so efficient, that he was a huge boost on the court.
Calderon is shooting a measly 28% from the field and...gulp...9% from three-point range!
He got torched by Derrick Rose over and over Wednesday night and at some point if this continues, especially if the current starting group keeps getting in major first-quarter deficit situations, Triano is going to have to make some changes.
The problem is, many folks (and I wonder if this doesn't apply to Colangelo too) see Calderon still as the player he was in 2007-08. Why else would Marvel roll something like this out?
For the Raptors team to exceed expectations, Calderon has to step it up, at least in terms of controlling the offence and making shots. His assist to turnover ratio in pre-season is solid as usual, but he simply needs to do more if he's going to hold down that starting spot. He faces tough challenges in Raymond Felton and the bulldog-ish Toney Douglas tonight, but really, in the grand scheme of things this is an off-night compared to most point guard match-ups he'll face in the East. I'm hoping to see Jose make a stand therefore, his last chance in pre-season play.
3) Litmus Test: No, the litmus test isn't the third key per se, but this game probably represents the best chance for fans to get an idea of how this Raptors' team will perform come regular season.
Of course, it's the last game of pre-season so yes, of course it should be closer to the real thing.
But as well, the Knicks are one of those clubs that Toronto is going to be fighting tooth and nail with for positioning in the Eastern Conference standings. New York has the same pre-season record as Toronto, and while they definitely look like the more talented club on paper, I'm not sure they've done enough to improve certain intangibles defensively etc.
They'll likely roll out a starting unit of Felton, Chandler, Gallinari, and Stoudemire but whether Mozgov plays the C, or Mike D'Antoni plays Amar'e there and puts a Bill Walker or Douglas at the 2 next to Felton is anyone's guess. Point being, there's some talent there in that starting group that should give Toronto problems, but the bench after that is pretty dismal.
Tonight I think we'll continue to see a deficit from Toronto's starting group, one that the bench mob will cut into, but really it's the overall cohesion I'll be looking at. If the Dinos are going to stick it to their critics this season, it's games like this that they'll have to win, so tonight's match-up should be a nice view of things to come...especially since these teams turn around and play each other in their first regular season match next Wednesday.
As well, the Raps seemed to run out of gas against the Bulls Wednesday night late in the game, and against a similar up-and-down Knicks club, that can't happen tonight.
I'll be looking for a strong statement game by Toronto to even their pre-season record at 4-4, and yes, a W.