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Tip-In: Back...Way Back In December 2003 aka A Dedication To Hoffa...

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The date was Dec. 2, 2003. From that date to the 9th of the same month the Toronto Raptors won 4 games in a row...and hadn't won 4 straight since.

But after last night's obliteration of the Orlando Magic, the Raptors have reached that mark once again, grabbing their 6th win in 8 games in the process.

And what a win it was.

If you didn't get to see the game perhaps this one phrase will adequately sum things up; with less then 4 minutes left in the game Sam Mitchell fielded a roster of Charlie Villanueva, Eric Williams, Darrick Martin, Aaron Williams and LOREN WOODS.

Need I say more?

Ok...how about the same Loren Woods having 4 points, 1 steal, 1 assist and 1 rebound in those minutes including a nice spinning layup?

Tough to believe I know...

Well...how about Rafael Araujo playing his best all-around game of the season and setting the tone for the team in the first quarter?

Yes...too good to be true as a Raptors' fan. However when the final buzzer sounded, there it was...the Raptors' with a 121-97 win that was never really in question by the time the third quarter ended.

I've wrote a lot on this team this season and have always had lots to say and discuss but this win was so overwhelmingly positive I don't know where to start. The Raptors took this game from the tip and ran with it and showcased some of their best ball movement and definitely best defence of the season. Some quick points:

-Toronto had 7 players in double figures including Matt Bonner who made some great passes to open shooters and really showed his improved ability to put the ball on the floor when pressured.

-The Raptors held the Magic to only 21 rebounds, a record low for the franchise.

-Toronto conversely shot 63% from the field and 70% from beyond the arc going 7 for 10.

-The Raptors took over the game and opened up their huge lead with Chris Bosh sitting on the bench saddled with 2 fouls. This enabled Mitchell to rest Bosh and Mike James for a big chunk of the second half as well.

-The Raptors took 31 foul shots as opposed to Orlando's 25 and Mitchell and co. had the troops more then ready to match up with the Magic considering this was a back-to-backer.

These were just some of the statistical highlights and the individual plays are too numerous to go through; from Mike James breaking ankles and weaving through traffic to CV Smooth showcasing his huge assortment of offensive moves and numerous dunks. But for this RaptorsHQ writer, the play of Rafael Araujo was definitely the highlight.

I must say after the Atlanta Hawks game I was getting ready to jump off the Hoffawagon for good. I've been pretty supportive of him for a while thinking that eventually he would at least start rebounding the ball. At the start of the season I had stated I would have been happy with him averaging 6 points and 6 rebounds this season, the rebounds being ESPECIALLY key for this size-deprived squad. However so far this season, with the exception of a few moments here and there, it almost seemed that Hoffa had regressed if anything.

Well last night's game was a sign of hope. Matched up against the much quicker and explosive Dwight Howard Hoffa held his own. His tough defence and rebounding combined with the Raptors' terrific double teaming kept Howard in check and prevented the super soph from getting the Magic's "Inside-Outside" game going. While still not the quickest off his feet, Hoffa did a much better job of getting position on the glass and he finished the game with a solid 9 rebounds (leading the Raps). He even had a block and looked much quicker to the ball on defence. And, Araujo did the little things like continuously bumping cutters like Steve Francis preventing them from getting quick catch and shoot opportunities. Perhaps the play that best exemplafied these "little things" occured in the third quarter. The Raptors had taken a shot and missed and Araujo was fighting for the rebound. The ball squirted loose to Hedo Turkoglu who corraled it but Araujo's continued pressure up the court forced Hedo to lose his balance sending him out of bounds. In desperation he heaved the ball back inbounds only to be caught by a streaking Chris Bosh who found Mo Pete for a contested drive to the basket resulting in two foul shots. While it was Bosh who made the nice no look dish and Mo Pete who took it strong drawing the foul, it was Araujo's hustle that brought about this play.

Of course the caveat to all of this is that yes, I realize that this is just one game. Hoffa may return to his plodding, foul prone ways against Houston Friday night and I really don't expect him to average 9 rebounds for the rest of the season. But confidence is contagious and the way this team performed last night from the coaching staff on down, maybe, just maybe, Hoffa starts looking more like the player Rob Babcock envisioned when he made him the 8th overall pick in 2004's draft.

FRANCHISE

Sidebar - Franchise vs. Dime Magazine Online

In yesterday's edition of Dime Magazine Online's "Smack," some shots were taken at the Raptors' announcers Chuck Swirsky and Jack Armstrong. While neither were actually named, it's quite clear from the passage that that is who is being referred to. Here's the excerpt:

Toronto’s announcers must have assumed no one was watching the Raps/Hawks game yesterday. Either that or they’ve turned apathetic by watching such a bad team. At one point, the play-by-play sighed and said, “It feels like a preseason game in here.” A few minutes later, after Toronto worked the ball around for an open jumper he said, “The Raptors pass the ball more than Atlanta. Everyone on Atlanta is out to get theirs.” Which was later on followed by, "I’ll tell you what, Salim Stoudamire has some onions to challenge Chris Bosh in the paint." And then the big winner from the color commentator last night: “Chris Bosh is a better player than Jermaine O’Neal.”

Having watched the game, I heard all of these comments but don't really understand Dime's beef.

The arena WAS ridiculously empty and both teams' sloppy play definitely gave the game a "summer league" or "preseason" feel. And as I discussed yesterday, while Atlanta has great one-on-one players, the Raptors won the game with their ball movement while Atlanta's players kept taking ill-advised shots and drives costing the team in the end. Salim taking the ball at Bosh was a gutsy play on his behalf and obviously Dime just isn't familiar with the slang we've become accustomed to from Mr. Swirsky.

And perhaps this writer is simply a die-hard Hawks fan who rightfully needed SOMEONE to call out for the Hawks' inexcusable loss. Either that or the writer is really Royal Ivey and he didn't appreciate my co-writer Jeff Chapman bringing back memories of Hakim Warrick's junk.

As for "And the big winner" from the rant? Well...we're going to leave it to you, the readers. If you had a choice right now, would you rather have Chris Bosh or Jermaine O'Neal on your squad all things considered.

This writer takes Bosh in a slight edge and is out like the Raptors from the NBA basement.