With 116 to 92 loss to the Houston Rockets last night, the Toronto Raptors have suddenly dropped four straight and are in danger of sinking from fifth in the East, all the way out of playoff contention. Franchise talks about the importance of Chris Bosh's return, especially in terms of the mental boost it could provide.
It's probably not a good thing when Marcus Banks is your best player on the court.
That was the case last night during a solid thrashing at the hands of the Houston Rockets, as the previously hot Dinos suddenly now find themselves with only two wins in their last seven games, and a mere half game up on the Chicago Bulls for fifth in the conference.
Oh, and did I mention now that Milwaukee is only a game back of Toronto themselves? Or that Miami is a game and a half back? How about Charlotte, currently out of the playoff picture, is technically a game and a half back as well while holding the tie-breaker over Toronto?
Suddenly the expression "don't count your chickens before they hatch" seems quite fitting in relation to the Raps and their playoff chances.
However I'm not too surprised here.
About a month ago I prognosticated that Toronto had to win 8 out of a stretch of 10 fairly easy games on paper, starting January 27th with the Miami Heat. My reasoning was that if there was ever a time to put some distance between themselves and the rest of their playoff competition, that was it considering games towards the end of February and into early March got much tougher. The Raps did exactly that, losing to only Memphis in OT and to the Indiana Pacers in a letdown game, crusing along through Feb.
Now it's a different story.
To put it plainly, the Dinos' next two against the Knicks and 76ers later this week, are must-win games. With Chris Bosh still out, and Jose Calderon and now Hedo Turkoglu (ankle as well) banged up, the question is, can they win these next two?
Let's rewind a bit.
After Toronto's loss to Portland last week, I wrote an extensive piece on the Raptors minus Bosh, and that the team fans saw lose to a decent, but certainly not unstoppable, Blazers club, could be very close to what they'd see the following season should Bosh take his services elsewhere.
This touched off a firestorm of discussion of course with a number of great points being made.
Toronto promptly then took the Cavs to overtime in their next match, and while I didn't see it or the following match against OKC thanks to work travels to the UK, I wondered if perhaps I had been a bit too quick to jump the gun regarding my "Boshless Raptors" theory.
However after last night's loss to Houston, I'm feeling pretty good about my initial diagnosis.
There's not much point in extensively breaking down such a moribound performance but suffice to say, Toronto was never in this one. Yes, Jose was out and Hedo injured himself while the game was still reasonably close, but this one just had the feel of a blowout even quite early. Toronto's offensive sets were out-of-whack again, turnovers were rampant, and let's not even get into the defence.
Jay Triano post-game pointed out that without three of his four best players, this was a bit of a "what did you expect" situation. I agree, this one wasn't solely about a lack of Bosh (although who's the fourth best player Triano is referring to? Jack? Bargs?), but it's hard not to look at the big picture here and and say that with a 2 and 4 record minus CB4, this team just isn't very good.
Yes, they've had some tough opponents and maybe the team would be sitting with the same record had Bosh been healthy. But the fact remains that we don't know that for sure, and yet what we do know, is that in Bosh's absence, only Hedo Turkoglu and Jarrett Jack have really stepped their games up when needed. Players like Marco Belinelli and Sonny Weems just aren't and shouldn't be, top options on a club, and DeMar DeRozan is still a rookie in this league, regardless of the hype.
And I won't dig into Andrea too much here but 14 points and 6 rebounds ain't gonna work folks.
Those were his numbers from last night and essentially what he's been averaging while CB4 has been out; let's just say he's not exactly helping to build a case for his emergence if Bosh is gone next season. And for those who argue about him not being enough of a focal point on offence, he took 17 shots last night, almost twice as many as the rest of the team outside of Antoine Wright.
The danger here then is with another loss or two to finish this week, the Raptors suddenly find themselves in a very precarious position going forward. This now is about keeping a team from completely coming unglued and Bosh's return, emotionally more than statistically I'd argue, would go a long ways towards accomplishing this. It's tricky though because the club needs to solidify a playoff spot, both for the team this season and going forward in terms of retaining Chris Bosh. However it needs Bosh to help do it.
I believe Ricky from the Trailer Park Boys would refer to this as a catch 23 situation.
We don't know if Chris will be back for Friday's match, but I'm hoping he returns Sunday at the latest. The team is hanging on for its playoff life suddenly and while I won't go far as saying Bosh's return would be a lifesaver, it certainly could be that galvanizing force that this team looks to need so badly right now.