The Raps are still in 8th spot despite having lost another game last night, this time to the Atlanta Hawks.
The Nets did the Raps a favor and beat the Bulls setting the table for Sunday's big match-up.
After the Nets beat the Bulls last night HQ favorite, and Nets rookie, Terrence Williams was apparently getting text messages from current Raptors. That message? Thank you for playing your best game as a pro (Williams had a triple double) and getting the win.
Now, despite losing to Atlanta Hawks last night 107-101, the Raptors continue to hold the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference (holding the tie-breaker).
The result of last night's game was not surprising. Atlanta is a great team and despite struggling in the first quarter from the floor (they had 8 points with 3:07 left to play in the first quarter) absolutely unleashed their offensive fury in the second quarter and laid 45 points on the Raps.
To the Raptors credit however, they didn't fold. In the second half they kept the pace and battled with the Hawks all game long. Despite coming up short in the end last night's effort has to be commended. There were many opportunities for the Raptors to raise the white flag but they didn't.
It's clear that these guys still want to make the playoffs and won't let Chris Bosh's absence be a crutch or an excuse for not doing so. They actually want to play the role of sacrificial lamb to the Cavs. You have to respect the effort even if, like me, you think from a long term "in the best interests of the franchise" perspective the desire to make the playoffs is somewhat misguided.
Of course many of these players may not be around next season, including Antoine Wright, Sonny Weems and starter Amir Johnson, so a first round pick is of no use to them. These guys are all playing for their next contract and all three are putting a solid case forward for getting a raise.
Sonny Weems once again had a solid offensive game. He was 8-16 from the floor, didn't force the action (no 3-point attempts) and can simply do some things on the offensive end of the floor, due to his athleticism, that no other Raptor can (see spin move in second quarter for evidence). He has taken full advantage of his insertion into the starting line-up. His play has been so solid as of late it is going to put Bryan Colangelo in a bit of a bind this off-season. Although DeRozan is supposed to be the two guard of the future Weems is now making a strong argument that, despite the lesser draft status, that he should be guy. Bothare young, talented and with tons of upside the only difference being Weemsis currently the more polished player. Is there room for both of these guys on the roster? Has Weems recent play priced himself out of Toronto's plans? Can BC afford to sign Weems to an extension (currently an unguaranteed option for next season) when so much effort and promise has been used to promote DeRozan as Toronto's next big player? It's an interesting dilemma.
Perhaps the best effort in last night's match-up came from Amir Johnson. Inserted into the startingline-up Johnson managed to stay out of foul trouble for the most part and put up a huge double-double with 18 points and 13 rebounds. This is the definition of stepping-up. Jay Triono was smart to put Amir next to Bargnani in the starting line-up. Amir doesn't need the ball in his hands to be effective. He is the ying to Bargnani's yang and a great compliment to Il Mago. Amir, like Weems, with performances like these, is putting BC into a tough position with the off-season period not far off. It's interesting that it's the guys who no-one expected this team to rely on this season are the one's really coming to the forefront down the stretch.
Despite strong performances by the likes of Weems, Johnson and many others the Raps lost the game in typical fashion. The team was once again outrebounded and gave up far too many second chance points to the Hawks. On a number of occasions the Raps got the initial stop only to give up an offensive rebound which subsequently lead to an Atlanta bucket. Josh Smith and Al Horford were dominant on the glass with 5 offensive rebounds each. The Hawks also had a distinct advantage from the free throw line where they had 10 more attempts and 14 more makes. Finally, the Raps perimeter defense let them down far too many times.
The teams rebounding issues, lack of free-throw attempts (without Bosh) and perimeter defense are all things Colangelo is going to have to find answers for in the off-season.
The Raptors also faced Jamal Crawford who simply owns the Raptors. Jack and Devlin were right last night when they said Crawford should win the 6th Man of the Year award. He has been awesome this season for the Hawks this season and they will rely heavily on him when the playoffs start.
The Raptors now head home, have today to regroup and on Sunday will play the Bulls in what is the biggest game of the season. It's going to be large.