With the Raptors on a two game winning streak following Saturday's impressive road win over the New Jersey Nets, it seems like things have "quieted down" for Raptors' Coach Sam Mitchell. Mitchell was getting calls from concerned friends and colleagues constantly offering "words of wisdom" during the Raptors incessant losing but it appears that the calls have stopped for the time being allowing Mitchell some much needed shut-eye. Ironically, Mitchell's Military background had required him to go for long lengths of time on very little sleep which may have prepared him for his current situation better then any previous basketball coaching experience could have.
Another Raptor with a military background is rookie Joey Graham. Graham is still learning when to use his aggressiveness on the court but lately has been making serious headway. Graham's father was in the military and ran a tight ship at home ensuring that Joey and brother Steven were always doing things to the best of their abilities. Head coach Sam Mitchell appears to be attempting a similar style with Joey and has been trying to get the rookie to bring the intensity he brought to the last few games (especially in terms of rebounding) to each and every game going forward.
An aggressive Joey Graham was key for Toronto in its win over the Nets and the Raptors will need that same play from Joey and the other rookies to compete against the Wizards and their high-powered offence tonight. One thing is for sure though, this young Toronto team is improving, and not just by climbing a spot on ESPN.com's power rankings. Toronto's play over the next 2 weeks will go a long way in determining if GM Rob Babcock makes any sudden moves after December the 15th. This date represents the first point in time when free-agents who signed contracts this summer can be dealt. Currently the media in Philadelphia has been whispering that the "defenceless" 76ers are interested in the Raptors' Eric Williams and depending on the play of the Raptors' rookies, Williams may indeed be expendable. Later this week RaptorsHQ will take a look at some possible trade scenarios for Toronto.
The Raptors face a suddenly struggling Wizards squad tonight in Washington while the Raptors themselves look to extend their current winning streak to 3 games. Washington is a dangerous offensive team lead by Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison yet a team with little muscle inside. Brendan Haywood has been solid for the team at center but is hardly an All-Star and Rafael Araujo should be able to match up well with him based on his recent play against other less mobile bigs. Mike James will be making his return for the Raptors and will have his hands full chasing Arenas around in all likelyhood. Arenas will be too much of an issue for the less defensive Jose Calderon to cover and therefore James will have to do his best to contain the NBA's 4th leading scorer who is currently averaging 27.1 points per game.
This game may be decided be bench play however. Jarvis Hayes and Caron Butler torched the Raptors the last time these two teams faced off in Toronto's home opener and the Raptors will HAVE to put on the same sort of defensive performance they put on against New Jersey if they want to have a shot at the win. Wizards coach Eddie Jordan runs a version of the screening and back door cutting Princeton offense and the Raptors, with 2 days off, will hopefully be prepared for this. Washington had way too many easy layups and open looks the last time these teams met and here's hoping that the Raptors have learned from their mistakes. Chris Bosh and CV Smooth should be able to repeatedly attack the soft Wizards' interior and if Toronto's guards can contain Arenas and Jamison, the Raptors should be able to leave with the win.