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Tip-In: When Space Mountain Goes Off the Tracks

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..."Boy I miss the days when Mike James passed."

Well for tonight truer words could not have been spoken. Mike James was an absolute Raptors killer this evening as the Hornets beats the Raps in double overtime walking away with a 120-113 victory.

All in all it was a fairly sloppy game as the teams committed 29 turnovers and at numerous points in the game the Raptors easily could have packed it in. The first opportunity for the Raps to close up shop and head home was early in the second quarter. During the first Q the Raps starters were just not making any stops and Mike James was ice-cold. As a result the Raps quickly found themselves down by six. Mitchell quickly turned to the bench, yes that same bench that has provided very little for long stretches of the season, looking for some help. And boy did the bench provide it.

The best way to describe the second quarter? A Brazilian BANANZA! As we alluded to in the Suns recap, Hoffa was unable to build off any confidence he had developed from the previous Miami game as he sat and watched the Suns/Raptors track meet. Apparently the few days off was of no consequence however as Hoffa, looking more and more "slim and trim," came in and EASILY played his best basketball as a Rap. Hoffa provided good hustle, stayed down on D, took and made the open shot, grabbed tough boards and managed to get to the rim. Even when he received a technical foul for hanging on the rim I looked at Franchise and asked, "Who is the actor playing the role of Hoffa tonight, because this is terribly inaccurate?!"

As we have mentioned several times here at the HQ, when you think number 55 you really need to be thinking six/six/six. Six boards and six points prior to six fouls. Hoffa did that and more with a final stat line of 10 points, eight boards, one assist, one steal and an enormous amount of confidence.

On top of Hoffa's well, improvement (maybe emergence is a little strong yet) another young gun came to play as well - Joey Graham. In fact this evening on a whole was really a great chance to see what the Raps have youth wise and Graham did his best to tell fans that the future could be "golden." Joey was all over the floor tonight using that cut body the way it should be used, getting to the rim, banging down low and making guys think twice before heading his way. In fact Graham logged a season high 40 minutes, scored 19 points, and also contributed seven rebounds (four offensive), three assists and one great block.

(As a side note, if Rob Babcock was watching this game I'm guessing he would have had to shut it off to prevent a fit of rage...it's probably a good thing Calderon didn't have a career night as well for the sake of Babcock's TV set...)

Riding the young guys, the Raps managed to get back into the game. This continued until the starters came back in (one in particular who gets more attention below) and Toronto was suddenly down by 11 at the half. Things did not start off any better in the second half, but in classic Raptor style, after being down by as many as 17, they mounted the expected comeback riding the shoulders of Morris Peterson, oh, and that other young guy, #31. With guys like Hoffa and Graham really coming out of their shells you almost forgot that CV Smooth also had a tremendous game grabbing a team high 18 boards during 53 minutes of PT. Charlie was also putting together a solid offensive game with 23 points but unfortunately one guy kept forgetting Smooth was on the floor......

That guy was Mike James.

For all of James' heroics, at times this season he really has defined "Space Mountain" for us Raptor fans. His willingness to take tough shots in the clutch, his ability to curl off screens to hit the open jumper, his game-in/game-out intensity and his savvy at breaking down a team's defence to get to the rim have made him a valuable player for Toronto. I've really defended his occasional lapses in judgement as in so many games this season Toronto would not even have been in contention without James' play. The question however has always been "should the Raptors anoint this guy as their starting point-guard for years to come?"

Unfortunately with the way he's played of late, I'm not so sure this is going to be much of a question anymore.

In the past few games in particular, James has come under fire for his shot selection, especially late in games. Last night was no exception. Mr. Space Mountain finished five for 25 on the night and after seeing his team get back into the game thanks to some great ball movement he inexplicably kept firing away, particularly in the second overtime session.

In James defence I did not feel that all his shots were ill-advised. Without Chris Bosh going to the rim to draw fouls Toronto has become a very perimeter oriented club and it's hard to find fault with James missing shots when he runs a play only to have a team-mate throw it back to him with "four" on the shot clock.

However what angers us here, and many fans undoubtedly, is James taking shots early in the shot clock, particularly when there's no one around to rebound the basketball yet. I understand James' "shooters mentality" and the idea that he always thinks he'll hit the "next shot." And you know that's fine.

The problem though is that James shot terribly all night and Toronto was still in this game with numerous chances for the win! Toronto used some great ball movement as mentioned, offensive rebounding and defence to help spark the fourth quarter run and though James was part of this, it was his passing and hustle, not his erratic shot, that drew the Raptors into a tie going into the games' closing moments.

However history seems to have a way of repeating itself and once again after a solid first overtime period, the Raptors returned to their jump-shooting ways in the second extra session and the Hornets came away with the win.

So is this where the ride stops? Is it time for everyone to get off of Space Mountain? Is the attraction being moved to New York? We're wondering if in Bryan Colangelo's mind, these past few games haven't already sealed Mike James' fate. James seems to be a great all-around guy, a tireless work and fearless competitor. But watching some of those shots towards the end of the game just screamed out "selfish." Not in the sense that "I need these points for my score sheet or towards my new contract," but selfish in terms of pride, and thinking that James could do it himself and try to ice the game for the win. Perfect examples of this abound but perhaps the best one is a question for you the reader...if you watched the overtime sessions did you even notice anyone else on the floor for the Raptors besides James and at times Morris Peterson? Right up until the game's final meaningless possessions I didn't even realize that Charlie Villanueva, Joey Graham and Matt Bonner were still PLAYING. I mean, I really felt for those other guys who got Toronto back in this game without James, only to watch as James bombed-away and in the process "blew-up" the Raptors' chances for a win they had worked so hard for.

In fact at one point it looked like Peterson was letting James know what he thought of his shot selection. And if anyone deserved to say that it was Mo. The glue to this team this season, it was Peterson who almost single-handedly got the Raptors back in this game with his all-out effort and he finished with full box score of 27 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals, three forced charges and numerous great hustle and defensive plays.

However in the end it was Chris Paul's first career triple-double that garnered all the attention resulting in yet another heart-breaking loss for this young Raptors squad. With Chris Bosh not expected to return anytime soon Sam Mitchell is going to have to rally the troops and get them to understand that taking 31 three point shots while only 15 free throws does simply not bode well for winning future games.

In fact these HQ staffers would have to say that that's basically like saying "naaah, I'd rather not drink for free at the open bar, let's just go to the cash bar over there in the corner and pay three times the regular drink price..."

Nope, not something I think any of our readers would advise doing...well...unless maybe one of the Kings or Heat dance team was working the cash bar...

HOWLAND & FRANCHISE