Last night as I was watching Ohio State win their second NIT crown in school history, I realized that it was a bit like watching the Toronto Raptors play this season.
Not in terms of talent level, and not because Kostas Koufos looks a bit like Hoffa 2.0, but because of the general demeanour of both Ohio State and Umass.
I realize that it’s not the Final Four, but when the game was done, I had to pump up the volume on my TV and stare quizzically at the screen for a few minutes…
…because no one celebrated.
In fact, UMASS, the losing team, looked just as content about the final out come as Ohio State!
I mean, do a few fist pumps, throw some cheerleaders around or something! I’ve seen more enthusiasm after TESSC games here in Toronto!
Which brings me to our Raptors.
The looks on the Ohio and UMASS players’ faces after they had finished the game, that "we’re just happy to be here" look, is the same one I keep seeing post-game from Toronto. I’m sure the Raptors’ care about winning games, but I’d love to see some external displays. You know, a little KG-manship.
What ever happened to "I’m so mad at losing another game that I’m going to cry" Chris Bosh?
Remember that guy?
Now we have this new version of Bosh, one that keeps making sarcastic comments to Leo Rautins during games and making Youtube clips.
Of course in the words of Jerry Seinfeld:
"Not that there’s anything wrong with that."
It’s just that for a team that’s lost 10 of their last 15 games, I still don’t see that sense of urgency coming from Bosh, or any other members of the Raptors and frankly, I’m not sure I’m going to. Aside from Detroit, a schedule consisting of Charlotte, New Jersey twice, Milwaukee, Miami and Chicago looks like a relative cakewalk.
(I say relative compared to the West where a team like San Antonio has an "easy" schedule as it finishes the season playing Seattle, a banged up Lakers club, Sacramento and Utah at the Alamo. In that sense, Toronto is getting off easy.)
But does anyone actually think the Raptors can finish the season at 7 and 0?
How about 6 and 1?
5 and 2?
And furthermore, if Toronto can’t at least close things out at 4 and 3, how does this fare for the playoffs?
That’s why as macabre as this article sounds, I’m actually really intrigued to watch these final games. With the way Toronto has played lately, I’m pretty sure the final stretch will give us a good idea of what type of team we’ll see come playoff time.
Will we see an offensive juggernaut in black and red, one that regardless of defensive lapses just puts up more points than their opponents, much like the team last season?
Or will we see this year’s team – the median of which is an inconsistent bunch that can beat San Antonio one night and lose to Charlotte the next.
The loss to Atlanta on Wednesday night showcased both of course. In that game we saw the best and worst that Toronto can offer; slick offensive execution and contributions from all key players, coupled with horrible defensive play and lax rebounding at crucial points.
Hopefully tonight we’ll see some of these things rectified. For some thoughts on Toronto’s opponent, let’s turn it over now to George Washington III of Bobcat Bonfire in our weekly "Blogging With the Enemy" section.
1) RaptorsHQ: The Bobcats currently have five less wins than they did last season with seven games remaining. Give us your take on the direction of the franchise - are you happy with its development and do you see the team making a big jump in the standings next year?
Bobcat Bonfire: I think this season has been a disappointment for all concerned. The Bobcats have in essence stood still this season, after making good progress in the franchise's first three. Key players either missed the season (Sean May, Adam Morrison) or have not developed as hoped (Raymond Felton, Emeka Okafor). Couple that with uncertain coaching from rookie head coach Sam Vincent, and you have the recipe for a season that falls short of expectations. Improvement next season hinges on May's healthy return, Felton steadying his point leadership and performance, and Gerald Wallace raising his game to the next level while remaining healthy. None of them are a sure thing.
2) RaptorsHQ: We were mentioning on the site this week that Michael Beasley would be a great fit for the Bobcats beside Okafor. What are your thoughts on this and what do you think the Bobcats' biggest off-season need is?
Bobcat Bonfire: I can only think of a couple teams that wouldn't benefit from having a guy like Beasley. The issue becomes is Okafor a center? His size suggests he is more power forward than center, but he has been playing the 5 a lot this season. The presence of Nazr Mohammed muddles things as he is seen as a 5, but the times he and Okafor have played well on the court together have been few. That being said, Beasley would offer a greater frontcourt offensive presence, and someone more willing to go out and guard opposing forwards on the perimeter. He would certainly address the main need, that being rebounding from someone else in the frontcourt besides Okafor.
3) RaptorsHQ: What are the keys to stealing a win Friday night in Toronto?
Bobcat Bonfire: To get one of their rare road wins, the Bobcats have to find a way to limit second chance points. Chris Bosh and Rasho Nesterovic have given the 'Cats fits on the boards. If they can control their defensive boards, Charlotte has a good chance to beat the Raptors. If not, well...It won't be a surprise.
Funny to hear GWIII mention Bosh and Rasho giving the ‘Cats fits on the glass. Don’t recall that being the case earlier in the season when Bargs was starting.
The rebounding battle tonight is our first key to a Raptors W and it should also be indicative of Toronto’s level of ferocity tonight. Put it this way, if the Dinos can’t win this game at home to clinch a playoff spot, I’m no longer going to refer to them as the Raptors, but as the Triceratops. You know, that species of dinosaur that looks fierce from the outside, but in reality is a mild-mannered herbivore.
Ok…too much paleontology talk on a Friday…on with the 3 keys…
1) Rebounding. No big surprise here, Toronto needs to stay aggressive for this one and win the battle of the boards. Offensive rebounds open up one of the biggest chinks in Toronto’s armour – open 3-point looks. We saw this time and time again with Atlanta and for a team that struggles to guard the perimeter as is, giving opponents second or third chances just won’t do.
2) Point guard play. TJ Ford has been playing light years ahead of where he was just a week ago and that needs to continue to play at this level into the playoffs. However it can’t just be in a scoring role. A number of folks in the media yesterday talked about Ford blowing his defensive assignment on Bibby at the end of the Hawks’ game and it’s this area I’ll be watching tonight in particular. I’ve often noticed that TJ doesn't stay with his man, but floats through the paint looking for steals and deflections. That's great in certain situations, but at others it results in open looks for his man, or open looks for players his man finds when TJ Ford's team-mates are forced to rotate with Ford being caught out of position. It’s one thing to give a bad shooter like Raymond Felton open looks and sag off of him to prevent against the drive, it’s another to not guard him at all. Last time these teams met, Felton and Boykins killed Toronto with their penetration abilities and both Ford and Calderon need to stop the ball at the top of the key tonight. If they don’t this forces Toronto’s wing players to help out and gives guys like Gerald Wallace and Jason Richardson all the room they need to operate.
3) Foul Shooting. The Raptors got to the line 37 times against the Cats on Monday night. Charlotte was jumping at every fake and Toronto took advantage putting 27 points on the board from the line. They need to do this again. In fact, they need to start doing this every game. Jamario Moon has been more aggressive lately and other players need to step up as well. There’s no reason this Raptor team should barely average a league-worst 20 trips per game, Bosh alone should (and usually does) get to the line 10 to 12 times by himself!
We’ll probably find out later today whether or not the Raptors are going to file an appeal with the league considering the outcome of Wednesday night’s game in Atlanta. Bryan Colangelo has stated that he is ""I'm inclined to use as much of the 48 hours (the maximum time allowed after the game for a protest to be lodged) as (he) can..." and the new twist that Al Horford may have touched the ball on Delfino’s inbound attempt may influence the final decision.
Whatever the case, Toronto has bigger fish to fry.
This team needs to start playing like a playoff competitor - not simply a benefactor of being in the Eastern Conference.