I was recently asked by some other websites about our situation in Toronto, and in an interview that will be up in about a week or so, I took a long, hard look at our team and thought about the future for the first time.
Up until now, I've resisted talking about what camp I'm in as far as making a run at the playoffs, or sticking back and trying to draft high.
Perhaps I didn't want to face the reality in my own mind that I thought this season was already lost. If we lose one of these next two games, I believe the Raptors have to ask themselves some serious questions.
Can we expect to get past the first round this year?
What can we do to maximize our potential for a deep playoff run next year?
How can we best make use of Jermaine O'Neal's contract?
I don't believe that winning these next two games means that we have held off asking these tough questions for this year. But if we lose even just one of them?
And the first team up that we have to face is a team that we've already wasted opportunities with at home.
Of course, I'm talking about the New Jersey Nets.
With the Nets holding the 9th seed, and Devin Harris making the whole Jason Kidd trade with Dallas look crazier by the day, the Raptors will need to come out full force. The Nets were absolutely whipped by the Oklahoma last game, and we may be dealing with a Nets squad that's looking to dish out some pain on the Raptors.
So without further ado, here are the three keys:
1) Body Lopez -
In three meetings so far, Brook Lopez has averaged seven rebounds, with two on the offensive glass. He's averaged two blocks per game, and was the brightest spot in the Oklahoma City loss last game. What does that mean for the Raptors? Well, let's hope that Andrea Bargnani's resurgence doesn't take a step back. In fact, it'll be good work for our big rook as he's shown that he was better suited to battle Lopez. O'Neal on the other hand, was dominated by the big man in the previous three match-ups.
And it won't just be Lopez that Toronto needs to do a number on. The Nets possess other rugged types like Boone and Najera who like to mix it up.
Maybe we'll see a little Nathan Jawai action prior to the two minute remaining mark?
2) Clog the Paint -
Ok, we all know that Devin Harris has Jose's number off the dribble. So it'll be up to the entire team to step up and guard Harris. In fact, I wouldn't mind switching off Jose onto Bobby Simmons and letting a more athletic player like Anthony Parker guard Harris. Nevertheless, the Raptors should be able to clog the paint because the Nets are not normally that good of an outside shooting team. In fact, they are 27th in the league as far as shooting percentage is concerned. However, it's important to note that they are only 12th when it comes to 3 point percentage. Which means...
3) Guard the Arc -
Bobby Simmons. Vince Carter. Keyon Dooling. Jarvis Hayes. They all shoot over 35% from beyond the arc, and players such as Ryan Anderson have been able to scorch the Raptors as well. Therefore, rotations are going to be essential. The reason why the Raptors pulled off such an easy win the last time in New Jersey, was that they managed to anticipate the ball rotation so that the could intercept passes. The Raptors have plenty capable big men to guard the paint, so there should be no need to double team dribble drives. Instead, the Raptors should look to "pass off" dribble penetrators to those inside bigs and then to cover open outside shooters. Luckily, the Dinos won't have to contend with Yi Jianlian, which should make their life that much easier.
To be honest, this should be a simple win for the Raptors, but simple wins seem to be the most difficult kinds of wins to attain. In a season that has had plenty examples of the Raptors playing down to their opponents, I have to wonder if Jay Triano's message has gotten through to his players. These upcoming games will determine the fortune of the Raptors and that they will be indicators of which direction management should heading in the upcoming months.
I, for one, will be looking with great interest to see how this team once again reacts to adversity, now that we have a full roster.
Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, it’s the Blogger Power Rankings being hosted by RaptorsHQ. Who is this week’ss number 1, and better yet who should be cleaning number 1's work-out clothes? Big props to all the blogs who participated this week including:
3 Shades of Blue (http://3shadesofblue.com/)
Bust A Bucket (http://www.bustabucket.com)
Celtics Blog (www.celticsblog.com)
Empty The Bench (www.emptythebench.com)
Queen City Hoops (www.queencityhoops.com)
With Malice (www.with-malice.com)
Hardwood Paroxysm (http://www.hardwoodparoxysm.com/)
And ourselves here at the HQ.
So let’s start at the top…
1. Los Angeles Lakers
- They manhandled the Spurs over the weekend and the Cavs last week. They're back to the boring domination that we all despise them for. - 3 Shades of Blue
- With the victory over the forces of evil (read "San Antonio"/"Cleveland"), LA wrap up the top spot this week. But it's close. There's not a helluva lot separating the top 4 teams, and it's very much a week-to-week thing as to who's going to hold #1. That said, LA are looking much like the Western juggernaut that they did at the beginning of the year. The win over the Spurs - 2nd best team out West - was impressive. - With Malice
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
Getting their swagger back after the West injury and the LA debacle. But they need a big win to get back to the top and toppling the Dubs on a last second jumper (in your face, Rick Barry!) is not such a win. - Hardwood Paroxysm
It's feeling more and more like LeBron's year to get over the top and win a title. God knows he's going to be a bitch to deal with in the postseason. - Empty the Bench
3. Boston Celtics
That slide is a thing of the past. They have now won eight straight. - RaptorsHQ
We're sorry, Boston. Our bad. Didn't mean to say all that "prime is past, done like dinner" stuff. We were just joshing. Please remove the banana from our tailpipe. - Hardwood Paroxysm
4. Orlando Magic
And now the Magic see where that next level is. Let's see if they can figure out how to get there - Celtics Blog (post Celtics W)
After rolling through their West Coast road trip last week, they only had two games this week...and lost both. They still make the East a lot more interesting for the casual fan. - 3 Shades of Blue
5. San Antonio Spurs
Their big three are rounding into playoff form - Bust a Bucket
Here they come, here they come, here they come, oh, the Lakers game there they go, there they go, there they go. - Hardwood Paroxysm
6. Denver Nuggets
Kleiza has been a saving grace since Anthony went out. - RaptorsHQ
Even without Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets keep winning. Performance-wise, they'll be stronger having had this enforced hiatus. They're not one of the very elite, but getting very, very close. Look out for Denver. - With Malice
7. New Orleans Hornets
Not quite the same fire as last year. - Bust a Bucket
Is is just me or has last year's feel-good story become an afterthought this season? Don't sleep on them or you'll pay for it. - 3 Shades of Blue
8. Portland TrailBlazers
Want to prove you are crazy? Wear a Miles jersey to the Rose Garden. - RaptorsHQ
9. Houston Rockets
Who even likes T-Mac anymore? I don't get how anyone voted for him under any scenario. - Celtics Blog
The Rockets are going to be a really, really tough out in the playoffs... assuming they're at full strength, which is never a given. - Empty the Bench
10. Atlanta Hawks
They're back to being in every game and still haven't gotten Horford back. Be advised, they're laying in the weeds. - Hardwood Paroxysm
Joe Johnson is legit. - Bust a Bucket
11. Phoenix Suns
If they trade Amare the rest of the West should send Steve Kerr a Thank You card. - 3 Shades of Blue
It's almost as if the Suns don't want Amare Stoudemire to stay. Isn't it time to consider them a "troubled franchise" - given they have the same record as both Utah and Dallas - two teams that could be regarded as having problems? - With Malice
12. Philadelphia 76ers
This week's "Team You Hope Isn't On The Schedule." - Hardwood Paroxysm
Getting Brand back and won 8 of 10. - Bust a Bucket
13. Dallas Mavericks
Kidd wants to play until he is 40. The Mavs hope that's not in Dallas. - RaptorsHQ
The blowout win on the road in Detroit was nice, but the embarrassing blowout loss in Milwaukee outweighed it. This team is going to struggle to make the postseason. - Empty the Bench
14. Utah Jazz
Not a lot to get excited about here. Jazz-fans talk about falling too far behind North-West leading Denver. Forget Denver. They are as far ahead as the 20 point victory they enjoyed on Sunday suggests. Worry about making the playoffs at all. - With Malice
Too many injuries and not enough time to gel as a whole unit will hold this team back once again. - Empty the Bench
15. Miami Heat
Dwayne Wade? Sick, sick, sick. - RaptorsHQ
Where, oh where will Shawn Marion wind up? - 3 Shades of Blue
16. Detroit Pistons
So now Dumars wants to move Iverson? Lord knows he won't get a player of Billups stature back. - RaptorsHQ
They've made the extraordinary... ordinary. - Hardwood Paroxysm
17. Milwaukee Bucks
The Nets have a few pieces that are actually very good. And their role players aren't awful. With Redd's injury at Milwaukee, New Jersey are my pick to be the punching bag for Boston come the playoffs. - With Malice
Something tells me there won't be much difference between the pre-Michael Redd injury and post-Michael Redd injury Bucks. - Empty the Bench
18. New York Knicks
If Nate Robinson stays hot and Mike d'Antoni can squeeze out some quality minutes here and there from Tim Thomas and Danilo Gallinari, the Knicks could be looking at a playoff berth. Scary. - Empty the Bench
The basketball equivalent of "playing with house money." - Hardwood Paroxysm
19. Charlotte Bobcats
So maybe they SHOULD trade all their youth for vets. - RaptorsHQ
If they trade Gerald Wallace, then I will officially have no idea what they are trying to accomplish. - 3 Shades of Blue
20. Minnesota Timberwolves
There is a lot to like about how this team is coming together; hitting .500 by season's end would really be something. - Empty the Bench
Given how much Dallas are sucking of late, and how well the Timberwolves are playing, is it too much to think that Minnesota could make the playoffs? Probably... but at least it's possible to raise that now without getting laughed at. - With Malice
21. New Jersey Nets
Someone want to grab the wheels? Because they're kind of coming off right now. - Hardwood Paroxysm
They are actually a much better team on the road then at home. Could they move to Brooklyn any faster? - RaptorsHQ
22. Indiana Pacers
Danny Granger's good. Very good. At least you can say that about one Pacer. Beyond Granger? Ewwwwwwwwwww. - With Malice
Marquis Daniels makes this team much better. That feels weird to say. - Hardwood Paroxysm
23. Toronto Raptors
The countdown to Chris Bosh leaving town has begun. - Empty the Bench
With Jermaine O'Neal's price tag, they should get a refund...unless it was a Buy One, Get One Free kinda thing. - 3 Shades of Blue
24. Chicago Bulls
Imagine this team with Aldridge...I am sure Bulls fans do. - RaptorsHQ
Vinny Del Negro should be given an award for Least Valuable Coach. - Hardwood Paroxysm
25. Golden State Warriors
But for an amazing shot from LeBron James, the Dubs beat the Cavs. Now, that doesn't make them on a par with Cleveland, not even close. But it is indicative of better days ahead at Golden State. They won't make the playoffs, but they will make life tough for some teams that will. - With Malice
It may not necessarily translate to more wins, but the return of Monta Ellis should make the Warriors even more entertaining to watch. - Empty the Bench
26. Oklahoma City Thunder
Playing .500 ball in the last ten. A lot of teams with better records can't say that right now. - RaptorsHQ
Hey, not so bad, eh? - Hardwood Paroxysm
27. Memphis Grizzlies
A hill to climb, but for the longest time - looking pretty good. Then... uh-oh... - With Malice
28. Washington Wizards
Wouldn't Jamison look good in another jersey? - RaptorsHQ
The only team actually out of the playoff picture in the East. - 3 Shades of Blue
29. Sacramento Kings
If the NBA were a film, the Kings are the extras who get blown up. - Hardwood Paroxysm
Ever seen a group of 8 year olds play basketball? Then you don't need to go to the Arco Arena this season. - With Malice
30. Los Angeles Clippers
When I think about the Clippers, I'm reminded of the vid-clip of Dave England of Jackass making an omelette (search that on YouTube). - With Malice
It's so bad that injured players are trying to STAY injured. - RaptorsHQ