Depending on your view of this season, the Toronto Raptors' 94 to 86 victory last night over the Philadelphia 76erswas either a good thing, or a disappointment en route to the inevitable draft lottery visit at season's end.
While neither team played well, the Raptors made fewer errors down the stretch and managed to wrestle away the road win, evening their road trip record at 2 and 2.
For me this was a win.
A good one?
Well...that's like saying the last 3 Star Wars movies were amazing.
They were made...and...let's just leave it at that.
It was definitely not a pretty win but I'll argue it was an important one.
While I'm all for grabbing that top lottery spot come May, I don't want this to turn into an 8 win season and have a deathly losing culture ingrained in the minds of these youngsters. I'd prefer to see the club play hard each and every night, and it's hard to do that when you're constantly ending up on the losing side of performances like the night before last in Washington.
So while Toronto did plenty wrong last night, and frankly would have lost to pretty much any other team in the league having played like this, the Raps did enough to come away with an important W.
Leading the charge?
How about Andrea Bargnani?!
He mixed up his shots, hit on a great percentage (12 of 18) en route to a game-high 30 points, got to the line frequently, and even hauled in 7 rebounds. And while he still got caught standing around on defence at times, this is the type of performance the Raps need each and every night if they want to consistently compete. His offence simply must offset his other liabilities and while his plus/minus mark was 0 on the night, I thought this was a good example of Andrea being a positive contributor when all was said and done.
Yes, Elton Brand pumped in 27 points but most of the night Reggie Evans was matched up with Brand, not Bargs.
Also helping Andrea out, Mr. Sonny Weems.
Yep, I've been blowing the Weems horn pretty loud for the past two seasons so I don't think I need to go too much further here.
Simply put, 10 of 18 shooting from a wing is spectacular, and 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 6 free throw attempts and a team-high plus 17 on the night is pretty solid too. Weems gave the Raptors the push they needed and hopefully has solidified his spot at the starting 3 going forward. I see no reason why he can't be a key member of the Raptors for years to come and I'm going on record right now as saying that he, along with Amir Johnson, are the only two players I'm sold on in terms of being key pieces for the future; either in starting or reserve roles.
So what about the rest of this group?
Well the team got another big rebounding and hustle night from Reggie Evans (5 points and 14 rebounds), including some lock-down D on one of the game's final possessions that sealed the TO win.
And Jose Calderon had 12 points and 8 assists in only 25 minutes, looking like a completely different person than the point guard who suited up in Washington.
This core group was enough to vanquish solid performances from the likes of Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner, and the 76ers 16 to 6 dominance on the offensive glass, but as mentioned above, that ain't gonna cut it on most nights.
Jarrett Jack and Linas Kleiza continue to struggle and were a combined 3 of freaking 20 on the night. Only you wouldn't know that because they kept jacking them up.
And while DeMar DeRozan wasn't bad necessarily, he was fairly invisible.
The argument this morning will be that DeRozan didn't get much of a chance to do anything but in reality he played the third most minutes on the team behind only Weems and Bargnani, and got his fair share of touches. Sure, Bargs can be a black hole and Jack was chucking up almost everything he could get his hands on, but it's also up to DeMar at some points to create for himself. Hopefully this will come though as the season progresses.
In a way though, this was one of the most encouraging things about the win.
The Raptors really only got great play from two players, good from another two, and that was pretty much it on the night.
Add in some bad shooting (the team was 2 of 12 from long-range) and there's lots of opportunity for improvement.
So yes, the win put Toronto slightly behind the 8 ball in terms of a shot at some of the rumoured top picks in the upcoming draft, but considering the fickle nature of the lottery, as long as the Raps are in that top 5 range, it's ok with me. This team needs to show some sort of progress on a night by night basis and while overall things weren't pretty last night, the win did have those elements.
Well I don't know about you, but to me, if the Raptors finish the season and establish a consistently powerful offensive weapon in Andrea Bargnani, find their 3 (or 2) of the future in Sonny Weems, have DeMar DeRozan take another big step forward, get guys like Joey Dorsey and Ed Davis some meaningful experience, AND establish some sort of trade value for players like Reggie Evans an Jose Calderon, that's a successful campaign.
Yes, even if the club only wins 20 games.