It's been a tough introduction to the NBA for the three rookies on this year's Raptors squad but no matter what they expect, this next week is going to teach some serious lessons...welcome to the first major western road trip of the year. In a matter of seven nights the winless Raptors will make a stop in Arizona to play Kid Canada and current NBA MVP Steve Nash, and then play three games in the State of California. There's no question it will be good to get out of the frigid weather this city has been having lately, but matching up against the Suns, Clips, Kings and up-start Warriors in 5 nights is going to test the resolve of every Raptor. Here a quick look ahead.
Tuesday November 22 @ Pheonix on the SCORE.
Although this team is short one of the best players in the NBA in Amare, the Suns still have two NBA All-Stars in their starting five in Nash and fantasy basketball stud Shawn Marion. Although the Suns have not started the season on a roll like last year they are still playing good basketball and getting some nice production from some unexpected sources. Players like Leandro Barbosa, Boris Diaw, and Eddie House are playing the best ball of their careers (think playing with Nash has any impact on this?) and suddenly this team is 10 deep. As a result it is not a matter of simply stopping one guy and seeing if the rest of the team can beat you. This is a difficult match-up for the Raps as the Suns can play run and gun and they also now have the bulk in the front court to slow it down and pound.
Shawn Marion could pose some serious match-up problems for the Raps and simply the Suns athleticism will make a Raptors' victory unlikely. There will also be a lot of pressure on Mike James and Jose Calderon to do their best to slow down Nash. An un-enviable task, but who knows, stranger things have happened.
Wednesday November 23 @ Clippers on SportsNet
When was the last time a team went to the Staples Center and actually would rather play the Lakers? Maybe my gut instinct every year about this team finally isn't wrong. Really is there another player that deserves to win and be on a playoff team more than Elton Brand? All this guy does is play hard no matter what the circumstances. Now he has some great talent around him along with some cagey vets in the like of Mobley and the contract year Sam Cassell. When Livingston comes back from injury this back-court is going to be solid.
The Clips are such a different team this year that all five of their starters are on the All-Star ballot...even the Hulkster Kaman. Coach Dunleavy is really feeling good about his players having come out and said "Weâ€™re looking to win and make the playoffs. We have one focus here, making the playoffs. We donâ€™t think thereâ€™s anybody we canâ€™t beat." Would Elgin Baylor please step in and dismantle this team so we can all go back to normal? If the Clips become the hot ticket in town not only will Bill Simmons start getting some national face time, but there may be some serious discord between the Laker girls and the Clips girls.....wait is that what the Clips cheerleaders are actually called, the "Clips Girls"? Does anyone even know? Have you ever thought about this? It's like the hot sister, the one who all the boys used to wait on and lavish over, is suddenly one upped when the less attractive, "smarter" one gets some work done and is suddenly the full package......I foresee a lesser more inticing version of the Malice at the Palace....wait did I just call the Clips the full package??....
Another back to back, this time on the road. I am not expecting much energy, and seeing how we are getting about as much leadership from Rose as point production......
Friday November 25 @ Sacramento on TSN
Well if there is a winnable game on this road trip this might be it. The Kings are really struggling to find their way. Although Shareef Abdur Rahim has played well, Mike Bibby is really struggling and there is just something missing. I wonder if it's because they brought in a discontent in Bonzi and a player who has never been to the playoffs (Abdur Rahim) to suddenly make up 2/5's of their starting five? Arco remains one of the toughest places to play in the NBA but this is not the same Kings team as we have grown accustomed to. They did however manage to win a couple in a row last week, including a dominating performance over the Bucks.
Here's a game where if the Raps play up-tempo basketball and run they might be able to hold their own. They are going to have to shoot well though because the Kings have some pretty big boys to throw out at the young Raps front court including Raptor killer Kenny Thomas, and former Raptor Brian Skinner. I have not even mentioned one of the best NBA success stories in Brad Miller. Undrafted? Really? Hopefully the Raps scouts can find a big like this!
Peja has never been really happy in Sacramento and he comes off the books at the same time as Jalen.....just a thought. Bosh, Villanueva, Rudy Gay, Peja, and Roko in 06-07? I must still be thinking about the Lakers girls.
Saturday November 26 @ Golden State on the SCORE
If there was no team in Toronto I would probably run WarriorsHQ.com and no not because I am jumping on the bandwagon. If there is a game you need to stay in and watch it might be this one. The Warriors are an exciting team to watch, in particular when they bench Foyle after about 2 minutes of game time. Baron Davis and J-Rich have looked great together thus far and here is a team, much like the Bulls, who are seeing some of their past picks develop into solid NBAers. There are not many big men who average a double-double and can hit the three like Troy Murphy, and when this year's first rounder Diogu gets back from his hand injury this team is deep and talented. They also took a flier on once projected first pick overall Chris Taft and that experiment is paying off dividends already.
The Raps need to run against Sacramento....they need to slow things down against the Warriors. Letting the Warriors' guards and athletic swingmen run the break may be good for courtcuts but it sure isn't the recipe for a Raptors win. Here's hoping at this point the Raps are not still looking for their first W.
Prediction: 1-3 and Jalen is either coming off the bench or playing for someone else.