On Sunday, I’ll be attending the Knicks game at the ACC, and as there isn’t much room in press row, I plan to plant myself firmly beside Bryan Colangelo for the duration of the game.
Because I’m hoping that by osmosis, I’ll be able to get an idea of just what the hell is going through the Legomaster’s brain right now.
I mean seriously, I’m at a bit of a loss for words here…something which as our long-time readers know, is quite rare.
Last night I listened to (via the Fan 590), and then watched, via a replay on RaptorsTV, a team that I barely recognized. Oh it’s the same team I’ve been watching the past four games; the one that moves the ball effortlessly, hits shots, plays inside and out, out-rebounds its opponents and gets key minutes from its bench. Only this time I wasn’t watching said team beat up on the Clippers, Thunder or even Bulls. This time I was watching the club go toe-to-toe with one of the top teams in not only the Eastern Conference, but the league itself.
In fact I referred to this match as a real litmus test in the comments section yesterday because Orlando, record-wise, was the best team that remained on Toronto’s schedule. But not only that, I really felt that the Magic would give this game 100 per cent because they were still jockeying for playoff positioning and trying to beat out the Celtics for second place overall in the East. (And if you think that the Celtics aren’t still giving it 100 per cent, I’m guessing you didn’t see their gritty, double OT win over Charlotte last night.)
So really, I’m opening up the floor here.
Is this team we’re watching now a sign of things to come next season? Or at best, is this still a 38 to 42 win team.
I’m inclined to believe the latter but it’s admittedly hard after last night’s win, not to see many positives including:
-Andrea Bargnani’s Continued Growth: Bargs got in foul trouble and really had no impact after the first half but before this, he was simply unstoppable. He was hitting from inside and out, was extremely aggressive, and yet found his offence within the flow of what Toronto was trying to do. As crazy as this sounds, it got to the point where I was sitting on my couch wondering who had the brighter future, Bargs or Howard! Bargs continues to show rapid growth at both ends of the court while Howard is still completely one-dimensional as an offensive force. If Dwight would ever really get mad and lock in (which means not practicing half-court hook-shots during warm-up) at both ends, look out. However Andrea last night showed just how far he’s come, and is now a very tough guard for Mr. Howard. Bargs picked up a few cheapies, but his individual defense on the Magic’s Frankenstein was spectacular at times, something I expect him to continue to work on in the coming years.
-The Bosh and Bargnani Connection: Last night something else really struck me in the first quarter; Bosh looks great as a second option. It was Andrea who controlled the flow of the game and forced Orlando to make adjustments and as a result, Bosh was able to do his thing with relatively little fanfare. I mean, that was a pretty quiet 24 and 12 that he dropped on Stan VanGundy’s team and it was his 12th double-double in the past 17 games. I’m still not sure financially how Colangelo can keep these two together long-term, but last night before foul issues, their on-court chemistry never looked better.
-Shawn Marion’s Fit: Marion was a huge factor in last night’s W. He dominated Turkoglu, was a force defensively, and dropped in 17 and 15 himself for the Raps. With Jose flying around the court again (which we’ll address in a second), Marion has started to really emerge as a nice complement to the other starters. He just knows how to play the game and outside of his jumping-jack abilities, this is such a huge benefit to Toronto. I mean, has anyone missed Jamario? The difference between these two basketball IQ wise is colossal, and at times now in games I’ll find myself simply watching him. He’s always moving without the ball, looking for mismatches, and very aware of what to do on the court at all times. If the Raps could get him back next season for the mid-level it would be a steal and while not the off-the-dribble creator this team still needs, I do believe he’s worth retaining at the right price.
-Jose Calderon’s Rejuvenation: On Sunday, I’m going to try and get some answers about this as I really don’t get it. Is Jose really just healthy again? Is that what the problem was for most of the season? I know the press had been saying things like "he didn’t practice with the team for months," etc, etc but watching him now playing at an All-Star level makes me think there’s more involved here. Was it a confidence thing? Was HE having some legal issues? Whatever the case, he’s been completely dominating his individual match-ups lately and again looking like the player Bryan Colangelo decided to slot in as his starting 1 for the next few years. He’s even putting in serious work defensively and while he’ll never be a lock-down type, teams are no longer forcing switches and penetrating right to the basket on each offensive set.
-Bench Play: Jason Kapono had six points on 3 of 5 shooting last night. Joey Graham had seven points and five rebounds. Both played about 20 minutes and while Roko, Pops and Voskuhl all failed to score, the bench gave the team the necessary lift it needed to overall, something that again, wasn’t happening early in the season.
Adding all these pieces up and you get a good idea why Toronto has won five straight and could easily win out the rest of their games, a completely bizarre situation. The Knicks who Toronto plays back-to-back next, the Wizards, who Toronto also plays twice, the Pacers and Bulls have all struggled. Philadelphia is suddenly without key starter Thad Young and even Atlanta hardly looks to be much of a threat with the way the Raps are currently playing.
Imagine a 13-game winning streak to end the season? It sure would throw a wrench into things draft-wise, and as mentioned to start this article, might give Colangelo pause as to making many moves this off-season.
However again, I hope that’s not the case.
The Magic still had a number of chances to win last night’s game in the final minutes and as Anthony Parker stated post-match, the Raps got some breaks for once. It’s not like this was another 20 point Toronto victory.
And on the season, Toronto still isn’t at the 30 win mark with only a handful of games left in the season. Even that 13 game win streak would give them a total of 37 wins, hardly much to get excited about.
In addition, it’s the six teams above Toronto (yes, reaching right up to Detroit etc) that can’t seem to win consistently, that are keeping this ridiculous playoff talk alive. Had this been the West, you could have officially stuck a fork in TO months ago.
So I’m going to sit back and watch the rest of these games from a slightly different point of view. Win or lose, I want to keep an eye on some of the points above, from Andrea’s development to Roko’s impact off the pine. These are stories worth focusing on as many will play an important role in the summer ahead.
And if Toronto goes 13-0 to finish things off so be it.
I just hope that the Raptors’ brain-trust doesn’t mistake this ending for "what could have been."