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Tip-In: Toronto Raptors Post Game - OZ

Yup....courage, brains and heart. All question marks when it came to the Raps last night.

Yup....courage, brains and heart. All question marks when it came to the Raps last night.

Well that was an exercise in futility and stupidity.

The effort was somewhere between weak and non-existent and there were more boneheaded plays than one could count. Last night’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks was shameful.

If you looked at any Raptors related site or newspaper you knew this was a big game for this team and there is no way that the players didn’t appreciate the significance. A win against the Bucks and the Raps were within one game of a playoff spot. A loss and they were in the back of a 6 team pack looking at an uphill battle.

Given the relatively high stakes for a game in the middle of a long season one would think that the Raps would have come out and given the home fans something to get excited about. Instead they looked like the supporting cast from the Wizard of Oz.

You guessed it, the Raps were the perfect hybrid of the Lion, the Scarecrow and the Tinman - as in no courage, no brain and no heart.

Let’s discuss courage first.

In a game where the Raptors had a clear advantage in the front-court, had the Bucks in foul trouble, and needed to get to the rim to offset some poor jump-shooting, the team shied away from contact, looked scared of the hoop and did everything they could to avoid seizing the moment.

Outside of the first quarter where Andrea Bargnani was absolutely lights out in every offensive facet of the game, in the remaining 36 minutes of the game the Raps were absolutely brutal on the offensive end only managing a combined 29 points in the second and third quarters. The reason for the brutal offensive output? A familiar story.

Once again, for the countless time, the Raps inability to get to the hoop and get high percentage looks did them in. After the first quarter the Raps jump shots were not going down but yet the players continued to toss them up time and time again. One of the main culprits was CB4. Of the 15 shots CB4 took last night 11 of them were from outside of 8 feet. In a game where the team needed CB4 to be the aggressor he was far from it.

Actually, outside of Il Mago, the only player that seemed ready to bring it was ironically the guy who the Raps are shopping. Jermaine O’Neal was the sole bright spot last night for this Toronto squad and without his play and attitude I shudder to think what the outcome would have been. I mean without O’Neal last night this game would have been over in the third quarter. JO almost single handedly brought the Raps back into game and he is starting to look like the player we saw prior to the knee bruise. I can see both side of the argument when it comes to dealing him but tonight just reaffirmed the fact that his attitude brings a dimension to this team that has been sorely lacking. If BC does move him this team goes back to being one of the, if not the softest teams in the league.

Up next, no brain.

It’s been a long time since I’ve witnessed so many poor decisions in a game as I did on this night and almost every player was guilty of at least one poor decision. By way of example I would point to Jason Kapono’s lane infraction on a free-throw, Jermaine O’Neal and his second technical essentially ending all hopes of a victory (he giveth and he taketh away), and the team’s inability to take advantage of the foul situation in the second quarter where each Bucks foul from early in the quarter would have led to free-throws. It was like the players left their grey matter at the entrance of the ACC.

It wasn’t just the players though. It was also the coach. When the game was in the last two minutes and moving at a snails pace, Triano was attempting to sub offense for defense and vise-versa which was commendable. What was not commendable was his inability to get Calderon to the scorer’s table in time. A small error but the icing on the cake.

On a whole I felt like I was watching a high-school basketball game. In such a significant match-up each possession counts and if you have hopes of winning you have to avoid the types of mistakes that this team made time and time again.

Last, but not least, no heart.

What can I say that we all are not thinking already? Unbelievably poor effort, in particular from the team’s star in CB4 who had an uncanny 7 turnovers and who failed to lift his team when they needed it. Bosh’s play tonight left much to be desired. As discussed he looked scared to attack the basket and essentially floated through the game.

Bosh’s play last night will likely be the most analyzed and criticized, but outside of JO the Raps got very little from anyone on the team. I mean where was the effort? After a performance like this there is a lot of criticism to go around. I fully expected the Raptors to manhandle this undermanned Bucks team. Even with Ridnour back in the line-up and Bogut coming off the bench I expected the Raps to take control and build momentum heading into the stretch ahead. I was gravely mistaken and unfortunately for Raptors fans like myself I don’t think there is a magic Wizard at the end of a yellow-brick road that can fix what ails this team.

But then again maybe I underestimated the Bucks. Maybe the Bucks are a better team than I expected. Their defense deserves some credit for the Raps offensive woes and it’s clear that they still have talent.

As per usual we approached Alex of Brewhoop (www.Brewhoop.com) for our "Blogging with the Enemy" segment and here’s his great responses which unfortunately did not arrive for the preview. Knowing the results of last night’s match-up they are particularly interesting.

1. How devastating is the Michael Redd injury to the Bucks season? Can they still make the playoffs?

In order to make the playoffs, the currently tied-for-eighth Bucks naturally must play about as well as the have up to this point. A lot will depend on the health of Redd's co-star in Milwaukee, Andrew Bogut. While Redd shoots the Bucks to more than a couple wins by his lonesome on a yearly basis, Bogut is the steadying presence whom Milwaukee can least afford to miss. After all, steady is certainly not the name of Dan Gadzuric's game. That leads to another reason why there is some hope of absorbing the loss of Redd: Unlike at center, the team has some serviceable replacements at guard. Ramon Sessions started in place of Redd the first game after the bad news, and he promptly led the Bucks in scoring. Richard Jefferson, Charlie Bell, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute can also fill in at a shooting guard, so there is some depth.

Milwaukee also has the benefit of playing far more games within the friendly confines of the Bradley Center than away from home (20 to 13) the rest of the season. While still a bit road-weary, the Bucks are positively formidable at home, standing at 13-8. The team's almost even point differential also is an encouraging sign pointing toward them hovering around the .500 mark. In the East, that might just work.

That said, losing a player with the talent and consistency to lead the franchise in scoring for the past five seasons is a predicament, as the uninspiring losses to Minnesota and Indiana in days one and two post-Redd showed. The best-case scenario is to sneak into the playoffs, and even if that happens, they won't worry any top contender a la the Hawks last year. Not without Redd.
2. What are the keys to a Bucks win on Friday against the Raps?

Some inspired play out of the gates would be a good start. The Pacers blew past the Bucks en route to a quick double digit lead on Wednesday. Richard Jefferson picked up three fouls in the first quarter and Dan Gadzuric has played 12 minutes combined despite starting at center in each of the past two losses this week. The injuries have moved everyone up the depth chart, so there is greater pressure and responsibility for everyone. So far, that has understandably spelled trouble.

If the Bucks avoid a slow start, control the boards, and Charlie Villanueva (who enjoys playing his former team and is hot in January) hangs with Chris Bosh, at least offensively, that should be enough to win.

What seems clear is that the loss of Redd isn’t as damaging as one would think. Alex seems to think they can survive without him and last night’s victory would support that sentiment. The Bucks still have talent outside of their "max" player and Skiles seems to be getting guys to respond. It was the Raps who failed to respond. As mentioned in the preview one fully expected the Bucks to come out with energy after being embarrassed in Indiana and they did just that. The Bucks also did what they needed to do in order to secure the W in that they won the battle on the glass and rode a hot Villanueva to the W.

Without this guy just how soft would this team be?

Without this guy just how soft would this team be?

Nevertheless the season continues. Up next for the Raps, is the Orlando Magic. Yes, the same Magic that just beat Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. This is the beginning of a brutal four game stretch where in a blink of an eye the Raps could find themselves having lost 5 straight and far out of the playoff race. If the Raps do want to up their chances in winning the game they will have to key in on the following:

1. Play With Heart - You guessed it. If the Raps don’t want this season to be a complete loss they need to prove it. They need to put it all out on the floor and leave nothing behind. It’s actually quite simple to explain what they need to do in that they need to do exactly what they didn’t do last night. Each player needs to look in the mirror and take it upon themselves to elevate their game. If the Raps come out half-hearted this game will be over before half and interest in this team is going to fade.

2. Play with Brains - The Magic can be a deadly offensive squad in particular when their outside shooters are finding the bottom of the net. Howard is such a presence in the paint that it forces the defense to collapse leaving guys like Hedo, Lewis and Bogans free to let loose from outside the arc. The Raps are fortunate in that they have three legitimate heavyweight big-men in O’Neal, Bargs and Voshkul who can do a reasonable job defending Howard but they will need help. When the help comes everyone else has to be quick to rotate and close out. If the Raps defenders can get a hand-up and not leap into the shooters (looking at you Jamario) that’s the most you can ask for.

3. Play With Courage - After being chosen as an All-Star CB4 did little against the Bucks to prove he earned the spot. Bosh must come out with an attacking mind-set. If he and the rest of the Raps don't find a way into the paint it will be another L.

HOWLAND