It wasn't too long ago that the Raptors were above the Miami Heat in the standings. However, with this afternoon game becoming one in a series of pivotal games to close out the season, the Raptors find themselves looking up with envy.
In just over two handful of games, we'll have lots to talk about as this Raptors team will either be occupying one of the final spots in the playoffs, or be out and firmly looking to rebuild. There will be many storylines to talk about, some of which have been present since the summer time.
But turning point of the season?
That has to be the trade deadline.
For many of us, we were far from comfortable with the team that was heading into the final stretch of the season. Some might say that the path to victory became all pear-shaped when Bosh got his injury. I say "hogwash". This team was flawed since the beginning of the year and to simply sweep things under the rug was sheer folly. Turkoglu's numbers were clearly in the tank before the deadline, and no matter how many wins the Raptors racked up, Turkoglu's contributions were far outpaced by his flaws.
Which is why I will keep on harping on the fact that this entire staff has been far too re-active rather than pro-active.
Perhaps it's a philosophy that's been handed down throughout the organization. For all of Colangelo's reign, it's the one part that has always bothered me. In stocks, we always trade by buying low and selling high. It's an obvious statement, but it also means that you have to be active in finding stocks that are going up in value and trading them off before they come crashing down.
Colangelo has done far too much of the opposite.
Whether it's Jason Kapono, Jermaine O'Neal, Jose Calderon, Hedo Turkoglu, or even the way he's drafted, he always seems to be reaching on the majority of decisions he makes. That's not to say he hasn't hit a few bang on (Jorge Garbajosa was undervalued when he came aboard, and Jarrett Jack has been a valuable player at his price) but the trend is pretty disturbing.
And these trends of overvaluing players seem to filter straight down to the coaching staff. Whether it's sticking with lineups that just aren't producing, sticking with players who are not showing attention to the philosophy you're trying to foster, or making changes that have the illusion of changes rather than making an actual change by reducing minutes, the staff has been far too complacent in keeping status quo for the team.
Of course, change was finally forced upon them the last game.
With Turkoglu possibly out again with some kind of illness, the Raptors will now look towards a tweaked lineup that everyone has been calling for since the month started. While Triano once again mismanaged his players by playing to the opposition's lineup, (something Sam Mitchell used to drive me nuts with,) the Raptors found some defensive energy after searching all over the US and Canada for it. It fills me with hope that this team can put it together, but they'll have to start by winning.
It's too late now for just "good efforts".
With that in mind, the Raptors head to Miami for a late Sunday game against their fellow Eastern Conference team. The Raptors had firmly expected to be in the middle of the Eastern Conference, and I believe most of us had thought the Raptors would have at least enough firepower and defensive spirit to be hanging with the likes of Miami. However, with each game approaching do-or-die importance, the Raptors cannot afford to simply "be there". In order to win, they'll have to take care of the following:
1) Check Wade, but more importantly, check Beasley
Michael Beasley may have been out the last time these two teams played, but he was an absolute monster against the Raptors in their matchup in December. Posting 28 points along with 11 rebounds, Beasley had his way against the Raptors front line. And as it was shown the other night against Denver, our front line players can rebound when they put their mind to it. If the Raptors allow Wade to score 30 points, they might have a chance. However, if they let Beasley go off in addition to Wade's normal production, the Heat will walk all over the Raptors. So for the Raptors, here's hoping that we'll see a lot of Antoine Wright, Sonny Weems, and DeMar DeRozan at the three, with Marco Belinelli, Weems, and DeRozan facing off at the two.
2) Overcome their defense, but more importantly, don't forget how to score
The Heat are currently on the verge of setting a franchise record. Miami has limited four consecutive opponents below 40 percent from the field, which would be tops in the franchise's 22 seasons. (By the way, that must be nice.) For the Raptors, it will mean that they have to be patient and methodical, even though the Heat will do everything in their power to pressure the fragile Raptors. With O'Neal possibly out with a hyper extended knee, the Raptors should attack Miami methodically by pounding them on the inside. It will be about using quick passes to keep the Heat off balance and it'll be up to players like the always slashing Sonny Weems and Marco Belinelli to create disruptions in the Miami defensive scheme.
3) The Raptors need to post a good effort, but more importantly, winning teams find a way
Everyone can talk about how great a game they played against the Nuggets the other night, as I also loved the effort put forth by our hometown heroes. However, the net sum is that the Raptors came out with a loss and allowed Chicago to further inch into the playoffs. At this point of the season, the Raptors need to do whatever they have to in order to win games. They have to dictate the pace, they have to use their best players at all times. They have to throw out any preconceptions about trying to "develop". All that matters is that the Raptors have to keep all the teams below them at bay, and the only way they can ensure that is to just keep winning.