If the game against Portland was any indication, Jay Triano can motivate the Toronto Raptors to play a style that's exciting and competes with some of the elite of the NBA.
And yet, people are now questioning Chris Bosh's heart and reaction to being "frustrated."
While I'm not one to really think about what's going on the minds of others, you have to feel a little bit for Bosh. The team has changed directions drastically, and is planning on going back to a style that brought this team its Atlantic Division Championship. However, even though people won't publicly say it, it's a type of rebuilding of the Raptors...or heck, more like a renovation. We're not tearing the house down, but we've gotta do some major work in the kitchen and bathroom. And without Sam around, the spotlight is going directly on Chris Bosh since Triano has a bit of a honeymoon period with everyone and doesn't seem the type of person to draw attention to himself so far.
If you're CB4, and you've heard so much about this new philosophy about defense and rebounding only to find yourself last in those categories, it has to make you wonder if your team is going to be able to perform. Toss in the incessant 2010 speculation and his own mini slump, coupled with the current losing streak, and you can understand why Bosh is trying to keep those kinds of comments away.
But tonight is yet another chance of getting this group of players to finally play to their potential strengths and take out one of the best of the East.
Against Cleveland, the Raptors are going to be facing a team that's had the summer to finally gel together, a maturing set of young players, and a potential first-round matchup team in the playoffs.
And that's not even talking about LeBron.
To put themselves in a position to win though, the Raptors have to do several different things:
1) Cool Off Daniel Gibson -
While the focal point will always be on stopping Lebron, one of the hottest players in the game right now is Daniel Gibson. He's shooting a blistering 63% from the field, and averaging 16 points per contest in his last six games. With Gibson playing the way he is, it's just not advisable to let Jose Calderon or Anthony Parker cheat off their man to help. This goes double for whoever gets stuck on King James.
So it'll be up to the Raptors for the second game in a row now to play their man straight up, and if there's anything that we learned about the Portland game, it's going to be a long work in progress. And in Daniel Gibson, the Cleveland Cavaliers have found the perfect foil for LeBron.
2) Execute the Quicker Pace -
The Raptors managed to catch Portland early by going at a faster pace for the first quarter and a half. When they pushed the ball, good things tended to happen, and more importantly, it seems as though the Raptors are more aggressive on the defensive end if they attempt to push the ball up the court. It sounds counter-intuitive to what the Raptors said that they had to do which was to get defensive stops to spark the offense, but that's how things have been recently. Who am I to argue, as long as they can extend this kind of play for longer periods of time, and of course have it reappear in the 2nd half of games.
We've now seen the results. Players that weren't producing before are suddenly becoming essential cogs in the Raptors machine. Getting production from players like Kapono and Graham is what is going to be needed to make sure the Raptors have an easier time with teams. It's just a matter of executing and making it a habit.
3) Block Out -
I was going to say "rebound", but we've put that heading here so many times now that it might cause burn-in on my computer screen. There's no question after Sunday's loss that there needs to be much more focus on this part of the game however it should also be noted that the Trailblazers are one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA. They have athletic, strong bigs at all their major power positions and as a result, they can just get after it if they want to.
Fighting Cleveland shouldn't be as much of a one-sided affair. However, with heavy bodies like Ilgauskas and Wallace, not to mention "Sideshow Varejao", it's going to mean that people cannot simply just go up haphazardly for a rebound, but rather our Raptors have to put a body on a man. The Cavs aren't as good an offensive rebounding club as Portland but in actuality grab more boards per game than the Blazers. Therefore the Dinos need to get out the Windex tonight.
Maybe it's not all that surprising, but the Raptors at this point really miss the presence of a guy like Kris Humphries, who is fearless about fighting the best in the NBA for a rebound. And while Joey Graham was an offensive threat on Sunday, there's just no denying the fact that he was vastly over matched in the post due to his small size. Here's hoping Hump makes it back for this game.
Nevertheless, while this game against Cleveland is not going to be one that the Raptors will take lightly, let's be honest here; this is only the third game under Jay Triano so I'm not going to let my expectations get out of hand. Even with the steady progress that we've seen, the Raptors could easily slip back into old habits. It's easy to forget that while the media talks about a seemless transition to Triano because of his familiarity with the players, the system he's attempting to implement is a pretty big overhaul of Sam Mitchell's old one. Habits that have formed over the course of the last few years will not simply be broken because of a few days of work. It takes time and practice for a coach to get his players to do what he wants on instinct. Until then, there will always be a danger that the Raptors will slip into their old ways.
However, at the same time, we've seen the Raptors become an extremely dangerous team when things are clicking and they are implementing what Triano wants them to do, so there is light at the end of the tunnel.
How long that tunnel extends out for remains to be seen...