How good is LeBron James?
Regardless of how you feel about the man behind "The Decision," it's pretty hard to argue that he's not the league's best player.
Forget the MVP race right now, I'm talking about someone who last year was responsible for 27 wins according to Wages of Wins. That number at the time sounded a bit ridiculous but watching the Cleveland Cavaliers pacing towards about 15 wins this year, with pretty much the EXACT same team, perhaps that 27 win mark was even a bit low?
Raptors fans saw just how much of an impact he has on a team last night as Mr. James posted 38 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and a block on Toronto in Miami's 120 to 103 victory. He was simply unstoppable, and his quick start offensively forced the Raps to focus in on him early, leaving guys like Mike Miller and Eddie House open on the perimeter, where they absolutely sliced the game wide open.
That's really this contest in a nutshell.
Toronto had no answer for LeBron, couldn't get out on Miami's shooters quickly enough, and yet couldn't hit a shot to save their lives at the other end.
And again, thanks to Toronto's defense, they allowed a player who has been a non-factor all season, to have a break-out game.
This time it was Miller of course, who had 15 points in total all season coming into last night's match.
Yesterday evening he had 22 in the second quarter alone.
A near 30 point lead for Miami at various moments in the first half, and while guys like DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani found their shooting touch late in the game, it was too little, too late.
Again, there wasn't much on the positive end to take from this loss.
Andrea and DeMar finally did have a game where they both had put up big scoring numbers, unfortunately it didn't come close to resulting in a win, to get their combined 58 points it basically took them 50 shots, and neither contributed much in other areas. However getting close to 60 points from your two best offensive options is nice to see, and hopefully something they can carry over into next week, when games against the likes of Memphis, Philly and Milwaukee look a lot more winnable.
Ed Davis got almost 30 minutes of playing time and was four points and a rebound away from yet another double double. The kid just seems to produce when he gets playing time so hopefully Triano keeps that leash pretty good even when certain other Raps heal up.
Speaking of which, the Dinos had only nine players available last night and of those nine, Jerryd Bayless still looks about 50 per cent healthy to me. He just doesn't have that consistent spark on O and D that he had when he was first acquired and without Leandro Barbosa and Sonny Weems, the team desperately needs someone who can be a pace-changer off the bench.
The team desperately needs some healthy bodies too.
It was great to see the Raptors get within seven points late in the game but you could see at point how gassed some of the players were, on this fifth game away from home in a row, and on a back-to-back to boot.
Oh, and it didn't help that Jose Calderon fell for a Mario Chalmers rocker step and sprained his ankle late either. No word yet from the Raps on how serious the injury is, but who knows now when the Ajinca deal goes through. Sundiata Gaines' 10-Day contract is up today, and while the team needs his roster spot for the move to work, can they afford to let him go considering how banged up Barbosa, Calderon and Bayless are?
It's a tough spot for the team to be in.
I was talking to Holly MacKenzie about this a couple nights ago. She noted that not only do the Raptors have rash of injuries to deal with right now, they were also behind the 8 ball so to speak as a huge chunk of salary, usually ear-marked for talent that would help the team win games, is sitting there unavailable. Bosh's TPE, Peja's contract...and that's before even getting into guys like Evans and Barbosa to a lesser extent thanks to injury. Most teams have use of nearly their whole salary but the Raps simply do not. As a result, it's pretty hard to win games and it's not that astonishing the team is on pace to win below 25 matches at present.
In fact, going back to the Wages of Wins point about LeBron producing 27 wins for the Cavs last year, you could do a similar compare for the Raps. Minus Bosh (11 wins produced last season), Jarrett Jack (7 wins produced), and numerous other productive pieces like Weems (2 wins produced) and Calderon (nearly 6 wins produced) not being able to give the team steady minutes, it's not hard to do some quick math and see the impact of their absence.
And while that's fine if you're rooting for a lottery pick like Jared Sullinger (who was unstoppable again yesterday for Ohio State), an under 25 win season is going to be pretty hard to swallow for these young Dinos. That's why this week I'm hoping they can notch a win or two, something to keep the morale up.
It's one thing to bring a guy like Sullinger to a team that has winning instincts, but simply lacks talent.
It's another to have him come in and get wrapped up in a culture of losing.