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Tip-In: Toronto Raptors Post Game – An Unfair Advantage

Raptors fans saw a bit of all 3 last night against the Lakers...

Raptors fans saw a bit of all 3 last night against the Lakers...

Hmmm…that Laker team has a bit of talent doesn’t it?

LA ran the Raptors out of the building last night when all was said and done but this wasn’t just another L on the season in my books.

No, there were enough bright spots that I think it’s time to break this one down via the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, something we haven’t done here at the HQ in a while.

So let’s start with the good…

The Good:

-Andrea Bargnani. His shooting cooled off as the game went on but again last night. I found myself grinning at his performance, especially on the defensive end. A double-double with four blocks while matched up with the likes of Pau Gasol? Offensively he’s progressed way beyond simply being a jump shooter but as mentioned, it’s on the defensive end that I’m completely blown away. Last night he was the Raptors’ best man-to-man defender, something even weeks ago I never thought I’d be able to say in a recap. He rarely bites on fakes, moves quite well laterally and uses his length and height quite effectively now to bother opponents. He still has a lot of work to do as a team defender, especially in help situations around the basket, but one thing at a time here. If he continues to develop at this pace, by mid-season we could be talking about a Big 4 if Jermaine can get healthy.

Further to this, last night was interesting from a match-up standpoint as there were those who believed after last year that Andrea’s elevator would never make it to the Dirk level in terms of upside, but would stop closer to the "next stop – Vladimir Radmanovic, shoes and baby items!" floor. I think from watching Vlad last night, it’s pretty obvious that already Andrea is a better and more complete player at both ends of the court, and there’s not reason he COULDN’T at some point approach Dirk’s level of play, and perhaps be even better defensively.

-The Bench. There was no double digit night from Joey Graham, but again I thought that Toronto got good production from players six to nine. Graham missed a few easy ones that rolled out, but was aggressive again attacking the basket for the most part, Roko continues to show his ability to get to the rim, and Kapono again was determined to let it fly doing a solid job coming off screens and looking for his shot.

In fact I really felt that as a whole, had the Raptors been facing almost any other squad last night, this would have been a Toronto W. But the Lakers are just so deep it’s ridiculous. I mean, your bench is Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Trevor Ariza, Luke Walton and Lamar Odom?? I bet Phil Jackson could start these five against teams like Oklahoma and Washington and come away with a win! As much as I hate both this team and the Celtics, the basketball purist in me has to admit to some excitement in a rematch of last year’s finals. I still think the Celtics are the better defensive club, although LA is much-improved, but LA is much deeper now and offensively a juggernaut. I’m not sure there is another team in the league that has a chance to knock off these two who looked poised to meet again for the league championship.

The Bad:

-Chris Bosh. Bosh’s consecutive monster games came to a halt last night in LA but it’s hard to fault him that much. Yes, he probably could have been a bit more aggressive, and missed some looks he usually makes (he was only four of 13 from the field), but let’s face it, it’s pretty hard to get to the rim when you are surrounded by THREE 7-footers, two of whom are great shot blockers in Gasol and Andrew Bynum. This was a night when CB4 needed to rely a bit more on his jumper and it just wasn’t falling.

Of all the games so far that Toronto has lost without Jermaine O’Neal, this was the one I felt he would have had the biggest impact on. It would have left Bosh able to guard the weaker Gasol, instead of having to contend with Bynum at both ends. The tough thing is that up next is Denver, another team that can throw out a number of athletic bigs in Nene, Andersen and Martin, so Bosh is going to have to be more insistent from the get-go.

-The Painted Area. The Dinos 3-point shooting (they hit 11 of 25 attempts) kept them in this one as they were completely dominated by LA on the interior. This meant not only in terms of rebounding, where Toronto got crushed 54 to 36, but also in terms of scoring as there was a similar "points in the paint" discrepancy. As Sam Mitchell said post-game, the Lakers’ length really gave Toronto some problems as even when CB4 and crew did box out, LA’s bigs were able to simply reach the ball first, something Toronto was powerless to stop. And offensively Toronto did a fairly good job not getting beaten off the dribble time and time again, but the Lakers offence ran so smoothly that they were consistently able to find cutters in the key or open looks. Evidence of this was LA shooting over 50 per cent from the field, and dishing out 34 assists on the night.

The Ugly:

-Transition Defence. The most dangerous thing about this LA team is not just the fact that they can score (they lead the league in scoring), but that they can do it in a manner of ways. Half-court they can play off of Gasol and Bryant and open things up via Bynum for shooters like Radmanovic and Fisher, or they can get out and run. Toronto especially felt the wrath of the latter last night and there were far too many outlet passes for open dunks and lay-ups in transition. LA’s superior rebounding helped this out as Phil Jackson has his troops sprinting for the other hoop as soon as Gasol and co. clean the glass after a missed shot.

The Raptors aren’t going to face too many teams like this during the season but transition defence is an area they need to start doing a much better job of paying attention to. Denver can get out and run in a similar fashion and therefore hopefully Sam Mitchell is feeding his troops a steady diet of video footage about this over the next few days.

-The Final Four Minutes. I’m not sure what the Laker fans were shouting, but it wasn’t for Roko to keep shooting. Ugh. Roko played fairly well but I’d rather he not shoot from long-range right now…at all. The last few minutes of the game looked more like a D League match than anything and in fact the final eight minutes or so really made this thing look a lot worse than it was. Toronto was able to show some fight and counter almost every LA run up until the end so it was rather disappointing to see the contest end in such a blowout fashion.

From here the Raptors head to Denver to take on the Nuggets Wednesday night.

Denver won its 11th game out of the 14 they’ve played since the AI trade by beating Houston last night. The addition of Chauncey Billups has transformed that club into an elite club all of a sudden and therefore it doesn’t get much easier for Toronto in their next game.

But could reinforcements be on the way? was reporting this weekend that Bryan Colangelo has been actively trying to court Shawn Marion and Leandro Barbosa, both players he had a hand in acquiring during his tenure in Phoenix.

The Barbosa idea makes a good deal of sense for the Raps as he could play the 2 spot or back-up Jose at the 1 as well. Marion I’m not sure is such a good fit anymore due to Toronto’s half-court play, not to mention the development of Bargnani, but in any event it’s obvious that BC understands this team is not where he wants it to be yet.

Can it get there?

Well, even in last night’s loss there were some positive signs and without a doubt, Toronto’s play in December against a brutal schedule will go a long ways in determining just what and how many moves Colangelo feels he needs to make.