The Toronto Raptors have won four games in a row.
In fact, looking at the standings this morning, they're an incredible half a game back of a playoff spot.
The team may still be three games under .500 but has done exactly what many of us, myself included, didn't think this club could do; beat the teams on paper it was supposed to beat.
Last night's 106 to 90 win over the Philadelphia 76ers was the latest example and while the second half wasn't nearly as pretty as the first, Toronto got over the .500 mark at home with the W, pushing their ACC record to 4 and 3. The second half saw Philly outscore Toronto 47 to 44, but a dominant first half that had the Raps crushing the 76ers in nearly every way possible, made way for this victory. And this dominance was predicated by the Dinos' front-court.
At one point in my view from the ACC's Media Gondola, I remarked that Andrea Bargnani and Reggie Evans had the exact opposite stats; Bargs with 12 points and 2 rebounds, Evans' with 2 points and 12 boards. While together they may represent the most one-dimensional front-court in NBA history, last night they certainly got the job done.
Bargs was unstoppable in the first half scoring 15 points and torched every Philly defender in his path. He again finished the game as Toronto's high point man dropping 24 on the Sixers, shooting 50 per cent from the field, and got to the line 8 times as well, setting the tone early with his offensive aggression.
Evans was equally as dominant but not in terms of scoring.
Reggie outworked the entire 76ers team in the paint grabbing a career-high 22 rebounds when all was said and done. Add on his 12 points, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block and you'd have to give Evans the game ball in this one. DeMar DeRozan described Evans post-game in his talk with us as "a big scary dude who gets rebounds," but I think it was Evans' own take that bears posting:
"You have so many people who go out there and work so hard from 9 to 5 to make an honest living and buy a Raptors ticket...they want to come here and see somebody work just as hard as they do in the real world. A lot of times, they appreciate it more to see a guy go out there and bust his butt. That way they get their money's worth when they see the Raptors play."
Slightly refreshing to hear isn't it?
And with Evans and Bargs providing the 1-2 punch inside, there wasn't a ton more needed in this one, especially in the first half against a very porous Philly D.
Even the new guys got in on the act as Jerryd Bayless dropped in 13 backing up Jose Calderon and Peja Stojakovic had 7 points in only six minutes of action.
Both looked pretty comfortable all things considered and it will be interesting to see how Jay Triano uses them going forward. Talking to Bayless post-game, it certainly sounds like he's expected to run the show at the 1 behind Jose and get after it on D. Triano remarked that he was already impressed with Bayless' defence and while he thought Jerryd took the pedal off the defensive metal a bit in the second, he's excited to have such a competitor out there.
As for Peja, Triano noted that it was only one game, but that he may use Stojakovic in a "stretch 4" type role going forward, something I asked Peja about post-game:
RaptorsHQ: "When you talked to the coaching staff, did they talk to about the role they think you'll play on the team?"
Peja Stojakovic: "I don't really know that they're sure how they're going to use me, or how long I'm even going to be here."
RHQ: "What's your preference in terms of your role...and would you like to stick around?"
PS: "I don't think it's right from my standpoint to talk about it. It's different what players want and what coaches want but it's something that players can not control. We're professionals, we're obligated to do what's asked of us, and the organization is eventually going to make a decision. There's gonna be short term, long term goals; whatever's in best interest for them."
RHQ: "You played a lot of 4 tonight, do you prefer playing the 4, the 3..."
PS: "I've played all my life as a small forward so it is an adjustment for me..."
RHQ: "Looks like you created some nice mismatches though that you were taking advantage of..."
PS: "Overall it's an adjustment, not playing at your own position, just kinda playing in spurts and trying to get yourself going in a small period of time, it's a challenge."
RHQ: "How would you describe your experience in New Orleans overall?"
PS: "It was pretty good, I had a good time! I was there what, four years? Great support from the city, we had a few good runs, especially in 07-08 season and...it was obvious, especially in the last year of my contract, I expected something like that, that i was going to be moved, and it happened."
RHQ: "What about playing with Chris Paul? He's such a dynamic player, and you've played with some great players in the past obviously with Sacramento, talk about playing with him."
PS: "He's definitely one of the best, and one of the best point guards in the game today. He's really passionate about the game, very competitive, looking to involve his teammates, and I'm glad he's healthy now. He was a little down with his injury last year but he's back now and playing well and the whole team is playing well."
Interesting that Peja doesn't seem to be unpacking his bags any time soon so we'll see just how long he remains a member of the Toronto Raptors. Obviously he can still contribute at this level, but Bryan Colangelo may indeed have other uses for him and his contract in the next little while.
Switching back to Bayless for a second, the newest member of our Raptors HQ team, Jayne Erickson, had a chance to chat with Jerryd pre-game. Jayne, one of the three finalists from The Score's first "Drafted" series will be working on various video projects with us this season and we're thrilled to have her on board. In fact we're hoping the following piece is the first in a series of "Jayne and Jerryd" "webisodes:"
Apologies for the sound quality, last minute security moved us into the hall to conduct the piece, but it's pretty evident that Bayless is extremely happy to be here in Toronto. He didn't want to insult any of his past teams or teammates, but even post game he made it pretty clear that he was thrilled to be in a system that was much more conducive to his natural abilities.
We'd be remiss however to end this without looking at a few things Toronto is going to have to work on for their next bunch of games, against much tougher opponents.
For starters, the team's offensive execution late in the game was horrid as guys like Barbosa and Bargnani settled for way too many contested jump shots and inefficient looks at the hoop. As well, the team got sloppy with the ball and against a club like Philly who loves to get out on the break, turnovers lead to easy hoops. A 20 point lead therefore was cut to only 10 before Toronto finally pulled away for good.
However had the first half lead not been so great, this one might have ended quite differently, and to that effect, I'm anxious to see what the club can do against some superior competition this weekend.
The other thing that stuck out to me as a concern was the play of DeMar DeRozan.
DD was pretty much invisible once again and while some of this yes, was due to lack of playing time and touches, he DeRozan wasn't that aggressive either when he got opportunities, and missed badly on a few jumpers.
I asked him about this post-game but he didn't seem to be concerned, and eventually the discussion changed to a quite humourous back and forth regarding new teammate Jerryd Bayless' acting career...
RaptorsHQ: "DeMar, how have you felt you've played in the past few games? It seems a bit like you're not quite as involved in the offence."
DeMar DeRozan: "Everybody's time will come, I'm not really too worried about it, we've got sixty-some more games to go; everything is gonna come along you know? That's what's so great about our team. Everybody don't have to put up 20 points. One night it could be this guy or this guy. Jerryd came in today and did a great job...any night it could be any one."
RHQ: "So it's not simply a matter of Triano looking at some other options and combinations on the court is it?"
DD: "Yeah, whoever gets into the flow, that's who we're going to go to. If it's me, if it's Sonny, whoever it may be."
RHQ: "Do you feel that you need to assert yourself more though on the court?"
DD: "Naah, I just have to pick and choose my spots and not force things."
Holly MacKenzie: "It feels like you've got a lot of weapons out there right now, a lot of speed; you, Sonny, Jerryd, Leandro..."
DD: "Oh yeah, at any given time you give it up, we run a fast break and anybody can get to the basket...we've got a lot of weapons...and nobody's saying nothing about Jerryd yet...because he's athletic, he can jump crazy - it's going to be fun once everybody gets sorter in our offence."
RHQ: "Obviously you and Jerryd have some history, talk about how you knew him pre-Raptors."
DD: "I knew him ever since high school, I remember playing against him in high school, playing against him at Arizona camp, and just seeing him develop. He was one of the top guards on the West Coast and so we always ran into each other."
RHQ: "Are you going to give him any grief for "Gunnin for That No. 1 Spot," the movie he was in?"
DD: "What movie, he was in a movie?"
RHQ: "Yeah, he was in a documentary."
DD: "What movie??"
RHQ: "He was playing with Beasley and a bunch of cats..."
DD: "I never seen that!!" (Laughs)
RHQ: You're gonna have to talk to him about that.
DD: "Yeah! I remember! It had Brandon Jennings in it? Yeah, I remember that!"
RHQ: "All those guys were in it..."
DD: "And the Rucker Park thing, yeah I remember that!"
DD: "Yeah, he should have won a Grammy for that!"
I think he meant Oscar, but an apt way to wrap this one up...