With a 111 to 103 win over the Miami Heat last night, the Toronto Raptors move into fifth spot in the East, and now look to put some distance between themselves and their competition by grabbing another W tonight in New York...
Duncan and Robinson.
Sampson and Olajuwon.
Bosh and Bargnani?
Ever since the Toronto Raptors selected Andrea Bargnani with the first pick of the 2006 NBA Draft, I worried about the direction of the club.
They already had an offensively minded All-Star big man in Chris Bosh, and despite GM Bryan Colangelo's assurances that the newly acquired "Il Mago," would eventually be a 5 in the league, I remained very skeptical; not only did I not see Andrea as a 5 because of his lack of toughness, defense and rebounding, but I just didn't think he was a great fit next to Chris Bosh, a potential double-double machine, but who also had his own defensive and toughness issues.
After another terrific night by these two in a win over the Heat last night, have I changed my opinion?
While I still think these two aren't the perfect compliments to each other, I couldn't help but gaze in awe at the developments of their respective games last night; for if there was a match to truly showcase this evolution, it was yesterday evening.
Let's start with Andrea, who was absolutely unstoppable offensively.
He was 13 of 19 from the field and essentially scored in every way possible; drives to the hoop, 3-pointers, stop-and-pops...even some nifty back to the basket up-and-under post-work. Think back even a year ago! Andrea regularly got called for travelling at least once a game on many of his "go-to" moves, and he didn't look to back players down even when he had a size advantage over them.
That's simply not the case any more.
He still disappears at times, but with each game, for the first time I can see a confidence in him that says "give me the ball, I'll score."
And what about Bosh?
Last year I routinely criticized his lack of leadership on the club, and his tendency to put up hollow numbers; translation - I just didn't think he was worthy of a max deal.
However this year has been an eye-opener. Yes, the defensive issues still present themselves at times, but he's been about as consistent and dominant a player as there is in the league this year outside of perhaps Lebron, Chris Paul and Kevin Durant.
I mean he's averaging 24 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists and a block on the season!
On top of that, he's done a lot of his key work in crunch time, whether it be timely baskets or big rebounds, and I shudder to think of what this team will be like next year if he's not around. I think many of us have taken that silky smooth J for granted, and unless you go back and watch footage from a few years ago, it's hard to truly appreciate, like Andrea, how far Chris' game has come.
During last night's game, one of our readers and I got into a discussion about the best PF's in the league; my inital vote being for Bosh, his for Dirk Nowitzki.
It's a tough call as while statistically I think Bosh has had the best season of all the 4's in the league, it would be tough to pass on the likes of Dirk, Duncan and even KG, considering his still dominant defensive abilities. However there's no question CB4 is right there; perhaps superior on O, inferior on D, but he's there. Personally, there's not another player I'd rather have offensively in the league at that spot than Bosh.
One-on-one he's just so hard to guard now. He can take you off the bounce with his quickness, has a dizzying array of spin moves and fakes, can shoot the long-range ball, and isn't afraid to take you to the rack and cram it on your head.
Oh...and if you're considering fouling him, he's almost an 80 per cent free throw shooter.
Add on the fact that he's left-handed, another twist to trying to guard him, and you've got one tough cover, and my vote for a player primed to make his second All-NBA team this season.
So why all the Bosh and Bargs talk in this recap/preview?
Simply put, this team is going to go as far as these two can carry them this season.
While I still don't think the two are a perfect fit at the 4 and 5, Bosh's eagerness to get in the paint and do the dirty work this year has allowed for a better mesh between the two. Last year there was still far too much finesse from both players, but this year, you can see a lot more grit, and this has translated to wins like last night's. Both made big plays on the glass down the stretch and Toronto desperately needs this to keep rolling.
Remember those games the past few seasons when time after time, it seemed like Toronto would have a game in hand, only to allow an offensive rebound or two down the stretch which would do them in? We just haven't seen that very often this year. Amir Johnson has been a huge help in that capacity (and hopefully Reggie Evans will lend his skillset to the situation as well), but it's been the rebounding improvement of both Bosh and Bargs that has quashed this issue for the most part.
In fact I'm going to set the magic number at 20.
I haven't gone back yet to look at the stats, but I'm guessing Toronto's record is pretty damn good when Andrea and Chris combine to get that many rebounds or more. Last night Chris did it of course almost by himself, but there have been nights lately when Andrea's gotten his fair share as well.
This brings us to tonight's game against the Knicks.
New York is one of those teams you can't sleep on on any given night because of their offensive firepower, and in particular, this one could be tricky due to the Raptors' back-to-back issues.
So I'm going with one key only here: Bosh and Bargnani.
If these two can play at the level they've been playing at recently, it should be a very tough night for New York, and in particular, I'll be keeping an eye on that magic number 20. The Knicks' pivot, David Lee, is capable of getting that many rebounds himself, so it's especially important that these two control the glass tonight.
You can talk about pace, turnovers (an early issue against Miami last night), Hedo, and various other factors, but I'm looking at these two to continue playing like alpha dogs 1 and 1 A en route to a win tonight.
Prior to the start of the season Andrea was my biggest X-Factor for this year, and this is proving to be the case.
Offensively he's been delivering with devastating efficiency of late, but it's on the glass and on D that he's starting to make strides, ones that if he continues can only help take Toronto to that elusive "next level."
Should he do that, suddenly it's not out of the question that he and Bosh start something quite special, something akin to the twin tower tag-teams I started this post by discussing.
And should that be the case, I'd never be more happy to be wrong.