Lacing Them Up –
Pat Riley categorized the Toronto Raptors’ play as "a wonderful sense of desperation."
I’d say it was a combination of that, and one of the biggest "mailing it in" performances I’ve ever seen, courtesy of the Miami Heat, as the Raps took it to the South Beach residents in a 108 to 83 win.
For all the woes we discussed lately with the Raptors, Sam Mitchell did make a good point post-game. In the losses, the team generally played horribly in one particular area. In Indiana it was the perimeter defense, against the Bobcats – rebounding, and in Orlando, they couldn’t buy a basket.
Now contrast that with the Miami Heat. It’s insane that a team featuring Marion, Wade, Williams, Ricky Davis and Mark Blount isn’t at least SLIGHTLY competitive! You forget these things as a Raptors’ fan when you see your team lose some frustrating matches.
But last night really put things into perspective.
Listening to Pat Riley post game just made things hit home even harder. Can you even imagine how many psychiatrist visits he’s currently making so as not to lose it? Post-game he offered to refund Heat season ticket holders for his team’s complete lack of effort and I really had to feel sorry for a man viewed as one of the greatest motivators in the history of the game. It really speaks volumes about how important it is to have certain types of players on your team. We’ve seen that this year in both Boston and New Orleans where previously much-maligned coaches are suddenly in the running for Coach of the Year honours. As Sam Mitchell pointed out last year when he brought his team in to accept the award with him, every coach in the NBA knows that you might have all the skills and tactics in the world, but if you don’t have the talent it doesn’t mean a thing. Chris Paul, David West, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett…these guys have as much to do with their respective head coaches’ chances of winning the award than the coaches themselves.
I mean, what do you even do if you are Miami?
Riley threatened to clean house post-game and it looks like he’ll have a chance with all the expiring contracts he has. But as I mentioned to Howland this morning, Miami is going to need to somehow draft Beasley, Gordon, Jordan and Rose to have any chance to completely turn things around. And considering the chances of that occurring, you’ve gotta wonder how long Pat Riley (and Dwyane Wade and Shawn Marion for that matter) will stick around during the rebuild.
On the Raptors’ side, it was a complete game from the team with some excellent play from the usual suspects – Parker and Calderon, and some great contributions from unlikely sources – Nesterovic and Moon.
Let’s take a deeper look into this blow-out.
A Numbers Game – 20
This was the number of turnovers the Heat had in the game. Toronto in contrast had but nine. If you were looking for a good indicator that Miami was mailing it in, look no further than this stat. In last night’s game I saw some of the worst passes and decisions made with the ball and virtually no effort to correct mistakes on rotations.
In fact forget the other stats from the game, someone should have had a stopwatch running on the amount of time Toronto had to hoist up shots at times. Carlos Delfino missed an open 3 from the corner on one occasion but he rushed into his shot. What he didn’t realize was that he would have had time for someone to pass him a deflated ball and for him to blow it up and proceed to shoot it before a defender came to contest. I swear at times the Raps had a good five seconds to catch and shoot, completely unacceptable if you are a Heat fan.
The Turning Point –
There wasn’t much of a turning point in this game either. Toronto came out firing and raced out to a 29 to 17 lead. At one point Miami was stuck at eight points for what seemed like an eternity, while the Raptors reeled off about 20 straight. This one was over before the ball was thrown up and a note to all lottery bound teams – if you’re looking to tank the season for a top pick, you better hope you’re not playing Miami in your remaining schedule. It’s pretty hard to play with less effort than they are showing right now.
Temperature Check –
Hot – Rasho Nesterovic. Let’s give Rasho some love. He’s been playing his ass off the last few games and for that matter, has always done so since becoming a Raptor. He doesn’t have the softest touch around the rim, the prettiest jump shot or biggest vertical leap – but he gets the job done. While his contract is going to be attractive come the off-season and next year for teams looking to get under the cap, I worry about dealing him away without a suitable replacement. Neither Hump nor Bargs can do the little things he does (especially on the defensive end) at this point and it might be interesting to see if Colangelo can talk Rasho into opting out of next year’s deal, for a smaller but longer-term contract thus ensuring job security. Something a little more than what Hump is getting right now for the next three seasons wouldn’t be too bad an idea in my books if I was BC.
Rasho is no longer a youthful T-Wolve - but he's still getting the job done as a Raptor...
Hot – Anthony Parker. Here’s another guy who doesn’t usually get enough love from us. Bosh, Jose and sometimes Ford, Delfino or Bargs get all the love but AP has been Toronto’s best player over the past week and a half. Last night he scored 12 points, grabbed five rebounds, dished out three assists and hit half his shots from the field while doing a great job on Dwyane Wade defensively. Parker really is a "second semester" type player and I’m excited to see him in top gear when CB4 returns. Unfortunately word out of the Raps’ camp today in that regard is that Bosh is no better so Parker may have to help carry the team offensively for the next little while.
Lukewarm – Jamario Moon. A lot of praise was heaped on Moon last night and he was seen by many as one of the game MVP’s. I’m not going to go that far. I thought Moon did a solid job on Shawn Marion, hit his open looks, and was active blocking shots and filling up the scorecard for his fantasy owners. However he still needs to be more aggressive going to the rim, and really, I’m not sure guarding a Nash-less Marion (more on this in a moment) is the same as locking down a Maggette, Ginobili, Kobe, Richardson…etc etc. I liked what I saw from Moon, but some of those sweeping blocks are going to be called fouls when he’s up against the Lebrons and Pierce’s.
Lukewarm – TJ Ford. A day after we got down and dirty about Ford and his future, he turns in an ok performance in the win last night. A few nice drives and dishes, some still questionable shots, and really, a somewhat surly demeanour was the result. The Star’s Dave Feschuk provided an interesting article this morning which may explain his recent play, and it’s not something Raptor fans are going to want to read about.
It’s hard not to read too much into the story of a meeting between Ford and some of the up and ups of the organization, because his "personal issues" may have nothing to do with basketball. But if they are ball related, Feschuk’s piece seems to give even more amo to my argument yesterday that Ford is either going to have to accept his new role and style of play, or find a new home. Whatever the case, it’s extremely disappointing considering that he and Jose do make a great tag-team on the court due to their different skill sets. I guess for now though we’ll just have to see how this plays out, and hopefully it’s not to the team’s detriment.
Lukewarm – Andrea Bargnani. First of all, I’m really glad that the tumble Bargs took didn’t result in a serious injury. At first glance, it looked a bit like TJ Ford part II…until I could swear I saw Andrea on the ground rubbing his head saying: "my hair, my hair!" Not to lessen the impact of the situation though, seeing Bargnani then get up and knock down both free throws was a great sign after a scary fall. I’m guessing Alexander Johnson gets suspended for a game ala Dirk for the hit and really, what was the point? It’s not like the Heat a) are fighting for their playoff lives or b) were trying to put out an on fire Il Mago.
Offensively Bargs did play a decent game though and was aggressive looking for his shot and going to the rim. My only worry is that this fall doesn’t stunt the growth he’s made in that "aggression" area.
Cold – Shawn Marion and the Phoenix Suns. I’ve been wanting to talk about this for a while, but haven’t really had the correct forum. Does anyone beside me think that the Shaq trade was a terrible deal for everyone involved except the Miami Heat? At worst, the Heat rent Marion for the season and when he opts out, they have cap space to chase some of the other marquee free agents next year. Miami is no Milwaukee, players will want to head to South Beach and play with Wade and Riles (regardless of what a recent Sports Illustrated poll suggested) so for Miami, this trade was a no-brainer. They weren’t winning with Shaq, and all he was doing was sinking a flooding ship even faster.
But what about the Suns, Shaq and Marion? First of all, I always thought this deal was incredibly short-sighted for Phoenix. The argument from the Suns personnel was "look, we’re getting Shaq for the playoffs, so give us some time to get it together."
Earth to Steve Kerr and co. What if you don’t MAKE the playoffs? It’s one thing to make this deal if you’re in the East and can lose 12 of your last 17 and still be in sixth place (like Washington.) But it’s entirely another when you’re in the West and a team that wins 50 games might find themselves on the outside looking in come late April! What happens if Phoenix drops to ninth? With Marion you could have argued that the team still had a few years to make its title run, but with Shaq? If the Suns miss the playoffs, is O’Neal really going to have a bigger impact NEXT year?
Furthermore, I’ve watched Phoenix play in six of their eight games since acquiring the Big Diesel and it’s not pretty. The offence just isn’t clicking the way it did with Marion and the defence has been woeful. The Suns were never a defensive stalwart, but they’re currently giving up an average of 112 points per game! To put that into perspective, the worst club in the league in terms of giving up points to opponents is the Warriors, and they’re only at 108! Even if they make the playoffs, that type of D just isn’t going to get it done.
As for Shaq, does he really want to be remembered as the player who instead of buoying Phoenix’s title hopes, knocked them out of the playoffs? It’s too early to tell what will happen, but I just don’t see this deal paying off for anyone…
For those who watched the game last night, did you even recognize Marion? Where were the end to end rushes? Where were the high-flying dunks and blocked shots? The Miami fans in attendance were hardly helping matters but without Steve Nash and the Phoenix offense, Marion looked like a shell of his former self. I expected a decline, especially in terms of his scoring, but that was ridiculous. If he opts out of his contract this off-season and thinks he’s going to get a better deal, he should probably join Latrell Spreewell on a yacht somewhere.
Shawn Marion - A perfect example of "be careful what you wish for..."
Moving On –
Apologies again for the late post, this week is a bit of an anomaly between work, schooling and other things. However extra-curricular work aside, the HQ will be watching Toronto’s performance in the next two games with great interest.
First up is the Washington Wizards tomorrow night, a team as previously mentioned, that has fallen on hard times of late. With the exception of a few key wins over the Hornets, Washington is sinking fast and is now in danger of losing the sixth seed to the upstart 76ers, who are only a game and a half back in the standings.
Washington has been missing key players all season and without All-Star Caron Butler, has really faded in the East. This is another easily winnable game for Toronto, Bosh or no Bosh.
Likewise Sunday’s game against the Sonics in Seattle, one that kicks off a five-game West swing, is one which should net the Raptors their 35th win. With games against the Lakers, Nuggets, Warriors, Kings and Jazz looming, it’s crucial to grab as many of these "should wins" as possible.
Otherwise, it’s not impossible that the next time Toronto faces Miami, we’re looking at a Raptor team that suddenly finds itself a game under .500.