Let’s start with some good news.
The Toronto Raptors yesterday announced that Nathan Jawai had finally been cleared to begin physical activity.
See you next season Nathan.
Considering we’re now officially a quarter of the way through things here, it’s pretty safe to say that any impact the "Aussie Shaq" is going to have on this club for the rest of the season will be minimal.
We’re happy that Jawai isn’t going to have to prematurely end his NBA career but let’s face it, this team needs a lot more help than just a mid-second-round pick.
Last night was exhibit A as with Chris Bosh having an off night, the Toronto Raptors just didn’t have enough fire-power to come away with a victory. Bosh had only 12 points, was six of 20 on the night, and was an uncharacteristic 0 for 2 from the free-throw line.
As much as people are going to want to talk about Toronto’s lack of rebounding prowess once more (Dallas out-rebounded them by 10 on the night), or inability to get key stops, the real truth is that Bosh can’t do it alone. A lot of our readers were ready to trade CB4 after his performance and while it wasn’t exactly NBA Classic-worthy, he’s going to have nights like these once in a while. You could fault him for perhaps settling for too many jumpers but about six of the 20 shots he took, including a wide-open put-back dunk, are ones he almost always makes. So think about that for a second; even if Bosh had hit 10 or 11 of his 20 shots, that makes a world of difference in terms of the final score, and how the game gets played down the stretch.
In fact, I’m not even sure why people are so upset about this loss.
After reading early comments on the site last night you’d think they put up another Denver or Utah-esque effort but you take this game out of the context of the other recent losses and it boils down to Dallas being the superior team.
Think about it; Dirk was having a rough night early on but thanks to the likes of Josh Howard and Jason Terry, that didn’t matter. Even guys like Brandon Bass were making the hustle plays to keep things relatively close until Dirk got going.
Toronto on the other hand? They had a fairly efficient Jermaine O’Neal (19 and 7 on the night) and…well…Joey started off well, and for the second game in a row Jamario Moon was the team’s MVP…but you see what I’m driving at here? Jamario Moon should be your energy guy, not your team's second-leading scorer! The Dinos are so dependant on Bosh that if he doesn’t put up 20 and 10 every night, it’s extremely tough for the team to win.
That’s why I almost came away pleased about the loss.
If this one didn’t paint a clear enough picture to both Raptors’ management and Toronto fans that this team simply isn’t good enough talent-wise, I don’t know what else will…
…well…besides maybe a loss to the 2 and 24 Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night.
(And yes we have refused to identify them as anything but Seattle on our schedule on the home page.)
Toronto doesn’t have a late-game killer like Jason Terry.
Toronto doesn’t have a slashing swingman who can get to the rim and score from inside and out like Josh Howard.
Toronto doesn’t even have a guy like Brandon Bass, someone who goes out there every game and simply out-works opponents on a regular basis.
For the umpteenth time, the Raptors are a jump-shooting club with little mental tenacity, and while they have one of the league’s best in Chris Bosh, it gets pretty slim in terms of pickings after that. Jose Calderon is a good point guard, Jermaine O’Neal is still a great defender, but the other pieces to the puzzle just aren’t overwhelming. Stars in the NBA can't do it themselves, that's why Kobe whined about getting help until Gasol came and Bynum developped, and why MJ was simply a dominant player before he had a sidekick in Pippen.
We saw glimpses of this lack of talent as early as the pre-season and it certainly now looks like expectations were simply much too high for this group. Perhaps Bryan Colangelo is too stubborn to admit this but his whole "best Raptor team he’s had" quote certainly seems just a bit off base right now. This is essentially the same 41 win team as last year; improved on the defensive end thanks to O’Neal and Triano’s new system, worse offensively minus Ford and Delfino.
So can the team in its current state reverse course and climb back towards .500 on this upcoming road trip?
You never want to try and fix things on the road but if there is a solution, in my books it starts with Andrea Bargnani.
I talked about Andrea being the biggest X factor for this team going into the season and it’s still the case. Unless he gets going offensively, I’m expecting to see countless more nights like the one yesterday evening against the Mavericks. Defensively Bargs has definitely improved (although on two straight possessions last night he left Dirk open for jumpers) but the team really needs his offensive to get going. If he starts hitting open shots and starts attacking off the bounce, suddenly things open up for Toronto’s other players.
We saw Dirk do this last night for Dallas and while it’s Andrea that needs to knock down shots, I’m hoping to see the Raptors’ coaching staff come up with some better ways to get him involved over the next few weeks. Right now he’s just standing around on the perimeter waiting for the ball to be swung to him. How about running some post-up plays off screens so that he’s mismatched against a smaller player? How about using him at the 5 and Joey at the 4 at times for some small-ball?
It’s not to say that these will necessarily work, but this guy just needs to start impacting games. We’re almost a third of the way through his third NBA season and it’s time for him to show that he indeed was worth of being a top pick.
In fact it’s funny for me to re-read the last few paragraphs as they’re hardly something I would have written had this team been soaring high with win/loss mark of say 15 and 10. This was probably the record most experts expected Toronto to have at this point in the season but obviously this has not materialized.
So can we forget all the expectations now?
Toronto in reality I’d say is in line with squads like the Bulls, Nets, and Knicks right now, all of whom are in a fight for that last playoff spot. The positives are that the Raptors have still played an extremely tough schedule, are trying to learn on the fly in terms of a new coach and his system, and have beaten clubs like Miami who are ahead of them in the standings. When all is said and done, I full expect this club to still make the playoffs; it’s just going to be a battle for one of the last spots, not a fight with the Celtics for the Atlantic Division title.
The Raptors need to start focusing on improving game by game and everyone, especially the Toronto Media, needs to let go of the whole "4th seed in the East, second-round in the playoffs" stuff.
BC was wrong, let’s move on.
In a way then, this road trip might actually be a blessing in disguise.
Toronto finishes off the year, including a final home game versus Denver, against West Coast squads that currently have a combined 71 and 107 record. As you can see, this isn’t exactly the crème of the crop out West so this is good opportunity for the Dinos to steal a few wins here and there, get Chris Bosh going again, and get back home ready to face 2009 with a higher level of confidence.
The Raptors currently sit five games under .500 but if they can return home to take on Denver having won four of six (quite reasonable considering they play the Clippers, Warriors, Kings and Thunder), then suddenly things don’t look so bad when the clock strikes 12 on 2008.
The unfortunate part is that things kick off against the team formerly known as the Seattle Sonics. Oklahoma is starving for a win having lost nine of their last 10 and if Toronto can’t win Friday night, it could set off a tailspin the team never recovers from.