I'm spent. Although there are a few games left I am finding it harder and harder to watch the Raps finish out the season and tonight was no different. Led by Employee Number 8 Antoine Walker, and a triple-double by the Big Aristotle, the Wade-less Heat took it to the Raps and the losing streak continued. The final result was a 106-97 loss for the Raps. So many thoughts went through my head last night watching the game but before I get too far into this a few obvious observations.
First, there is no question the Heat have an abundance of talent. In fact if their shooters get hot in the playoffs they could take the East. That is a big "if" considering the likes of the Pistons and now (ugh) the Nets, but if Shaq passes like he did last night and guys like Derek Anderson and others can step up their games, there is no reason the Heat should not at a minimum make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. The Raps simply don't have enough talent to compete with clubs like this and the proof was in the pudding last night...and no, I am not referring to Walker's physique.
The second obvious observation is that some of coach Sam Mitchell's moves are just maddening. Perhaps a memo should be sent to Mitchell - if Bryan Colangelo has faith in you and you wish to be around next year then wins and losses are of no consequence. Effort remains key, and the Raps guys have been giving it in spades, but the substitution patterns must be explained. I realize this sounds much like my last recap but come on, Loren Woods? Hoffa with six minutes of playing time yet when he did play he got Shaq in foul trouble? No Calderon but Darrick Martin? Matt Bonner guarding Shaq?
Wait...let me say that again...
BONNER GUARDING SHAQ?!
Is this some sort of strategy? I have been a supporter of Mitchell all year and he has some great attributes, but sometimes I wonder what is going through his head.
Now here are some not so obvious thoughts and observations.
Although we are a great offensive team I really question the way that the Raptors get their points. I hope that next year we see a very different offence. CV Smooth has to be put in the post. His is tremendously versatile, he can score anywhere on the floor, but I think he needs to spend more time in the paint. He has a good back to the basket game and unlike so many other rookie "Bigs" he actually has a go to move in the paint. His hook is so tough to defend. A rookie "Big" with a go-to move? That is impressive in this day and age. Now if only there was a concerted effort to get him in the post! If a bigger guy is guarding him, absolutely draw the defender out and take him off the bounce, but there are other ways to use Charlie too. Do not let him float. Charlie has the tools to become a dominant force on the offensive end of the floor. I would hate to see the Raps not expose his talent and let him become a Webberesque or D-Marsh-like player.
Speaking of the paint, the other guy that needs to spend more time there is Graham. Use his body. Let him post-up smaller defenders. Although perhaps not as talented as CV Smooth he can also score from anywhere but let him build his confidence closer to the hoop. His outside shot this year has actually been better than I expected. Let's set these guys loose and give them a better opportunity to thrive! I realize you can't change the offence over night but it doesn't take much to draw up a play or two where you experiment to see if there are ways to make them even better.
Watching tonight's game I feel the team is wasting a great opportunity to really see what it has. I see no value in playing Martin or Woods. I see value in experimenting and making a concerted effort to let these young guys play through all their mistakes. This is a great opportunity to see what they can do when the outcome of the games DO NOT MATTER. I have no issue with Atlanta passing us in the standings if the team is developing its assets.
In terms of the game last night the Raps again made some runs but couldn't get over the hump. We have all seen this story before and tonight was no different. That being said there were some positives. This team held their own even though this was a true mismatch in every sense of the word. If this was an important game some of Mitchell's subs were bright. Darrick Martin did come in and settle things down after watching Space Mountain toss up shots like he had no team-mates with him on the floor. Loren Woods has been playing better as of late and again last night played a solid game.
But again why win? This is one of those rare occasions in professional sport where winning is secondary. Nobody really expects wins with Bosh out. What people do expect is a better team next year pushing for a play-off spot. After tonight's game I question the true depth of that commitment. Going "0 for" to end the season won't be pretty...but if the team uses these games to get Hoffa, Calderon et al. really going so they can contribute next year and this team makes the playoffs, will anyone really remember this season's ending?
More lottery balls and talent development? Seems like a no-brainer for this HQ writer.