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The Week Ahead: January 9 - 16

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Regardless of today's outcome between the two hottest teams in the NBA (that's right, Nets vs. Raps) this week has been a tremendous success for both the Raps and us here at RaptorsHQ. As predicted here the schedule as of late has been favourable for our Dinos and things don't change over the next seven days with all of us looking forward to the upcoming battle with the worst franchise in the NBA, the New York Knicks. Winning however, is contagious and this author would argue that whoever was up this week the Raps would give them a run. A roster stockpiled with youth, a lot of these guys are now playing with such a high level of confidence that you may see some unexpected victories in the future as they don't know any better. After the way the season started you can't blame them for having high spirits. They now must find that mental space where you never get too high and never get too low. With another three very winnable games this week the Raps can slowly claw their way back to the .500 level.

All this enthusiasm aside, let's not talk playoffs, as I still stand on the Jim Mora side of things when he coached the Colts. "PLAYOFFS?!" The wins are GREAT, but until we start winning some games we are not expected to, fans should simply enjoy the fact that this team is jelling and playing better all around ball. It's still a long term process.....but let's break down the next week.

Monday January 9 at Chicago on SPORTSNET ONTARIO

The Bulls have quickly gotten out of their slump with back-to-back victories, but are still 2-8 in their last 10 games. This team is still looking for their identity and are having serious front-court issues now that Chandler has regressed and it has become a frontcourt by committee. This is not what Bulls fans expected of their frontcourt when they traded Elton Brand and took Curry and Chandler in the 2001 draft. You can't totally blame Bulls management for not seeing much return from that draft. It was a WEAK draft. In fact if teams could go back and re-draft that year Curry and Chandler would still probably top 10 picks with JRich, Gilbert Areanas and Pau battling it out for the top pick. Not to discount such NBA stars as Desagana Diop, Eddie Griffin, and Rodney White (all top 10 picks that year) or other current and future NBA All-Stars Kirk Haston, Michael Bradley (yikes Glen!), Joe Forte, Jerryl Sasser, Brandon Armstrong and Raul Lopez, but this was not a great draft year. In fact teams with second round picks likely faired as well as those with high first rounders.

As a result of putting too much stock into one draft the Bulls now rely heavily on their backcourt of Hinrich, Gordon and Duhon. Can the Raps slow down these three guys? Unlike the Houston game the defensive strategy has to be more than locking down one guy as the Bulls do have some guys that can go off at any time, including Luol Deng. From an offensive standpoint I'll go out on a limb and say getting the ball inside is key, and getting Mike "I love Sweets" Sweetney in foul trouble so Bosh is matched-up against the like of Othella Harrington and others who have zero chance of doing anything but fouling.

It's another back-to-back for the Raps, but the road has been good to the Raps and they can walk into the United Center and steal one before heading home for the rest of the week.

Anyone else wondering why there is so little coverage of the Tim Thomas situation? He has an expiring contract and yet there is ZERO interest except from New York, a team who has interest in anyone not named Marbury. Is he really going to sit all year? Fact it he doesn't seem to care, and whoever his agent is needs to act like a 15 year old girl and never put the phone down until something gets done. If I'm a Bulls fan I demand something in return even a second round pick and Penny Hardaway....that being said other than the Warriors (who have three first round picks in 2007) the Bulls are in a great position draft wise, have stockpiled draft picks (thanks Isiah), and can afford to let him walk for nothing.

Wednesday January 11 vs. Charlotte on SPORTSNET

Here is a MUST win game. The Bobcats, with the rash of injuries they have incurred, look more like The Charlotte Kittens. Okafor, Rush, Ely and May are all banged up and suddenly guys like Keith Bogans are being relied on to put the ball in the hoop. Keith Bogans? Dear God. Although Gerald Wallace is having a career year they don't have near enough talent on the pine right now to beat anyone, let alone the Raps. Also in the Raps favor is that Charlotte will have played the night before (Houston). This is another chance for the Raps to improve their home record and get another standing O from the crowd. There was nothing better than being at the Houston game and being able to give these guys a standing ovation. It might have been the first one all year!

It's really too bad that May is hurt because last time these teams matched-up, listening to Jack talk about how fat and out of shape Sean May is, was way too funny. They key however is stopping Primoz Brezec. If we can keep Primoz off the glass this should be a cake walk, but again this is where the "never get too high never get too low" theory comes into play. The Raps need to focus, pull out their shovels and hard hats, and start putting this team 6 feet under right off the bat. Don't let this team stick around.

One quick hit: I would love to see Graham get some touches in the post this game.

Sunday January 15 at New York on TSN

I have been waiting for this match-up all year. Knicks vs. Raps. Every time I hear these words I get excited and I am not being sarcastic. Whether it was the playoffs a few years ago, or knowing the long history between these two teams I always get excited about this match-up. Obviously this is not a great year for either franchise, but I love knowing the Knicks are in complete disarray. Their three-headed monster of Isiah, Larry and Marbury is currently as successful as the Backstreet Boys attempt at a come back and clearly at least one of them won't be around when the season ends. But who? Marbury is so grossly overpaid, Brown just arrived and clearly is around for at least another year and somehow Thomas has found some invincibility potion and the Knicks brass are drinking whatever Kool-Aid he is serving.

Even thinking about how bad this team is makes me laugh. There is one lone bright spot on this team, Channing Frye. I will gladly accept my large slice of humble pie when it comes to this guy. A big man coming out of Arizona, I thought he was going to be Loren Woods the Return, and was adamant that Thomas had wasted his first-round pick. I was wrong. I can admit that. That being said, I would still take Charlie over Frye.

The Raps must win this game as well, in particular if they want to start moving out of the bottom of the numerous power rankings out there on the net. Come on boys, give Marc Stein another reason to move you up in the Power Rankings other than Pape's play in Arkansas!

Joey G. better be ready to play some sick D on this afternoon because Jamal Crawford loves seeing Raptors on the front of the opponent's jersey. This is not an easy win, regardless of the mess NY is in. They have some solid individual talent. They just are not playing like LB wants. Here's hoping it doesn't click during this match-up.

Prediction: Let the hot play continue....3-0, with a squeaker against NY.

HOWLAND