I know that it's only the preseason , but after watching Friday night's game against the New York Knicks I have more hope for the Toronto Raptors than I have had at any other time in the post-Chris Bosh era.
Now in the grand scheme of things Toronto's impressive 3-1 preseason record (4-1 if you count the win against Real Madrid) means next to nothing, but Friday night's bout was the closest taste of NBA action that we've come across and it couldn't have gone any better - especially when you consider the fact that Carmelo Anthony, Raymond Felton, Amar'e Stoudamire and Tyson Chandler all played more minutes than they have all preseason.
Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan put together solid performances while Kyle Lowry continued to impress his new team with a lights-out performance from beyond the arc, but it was Andrea Bargnani's resurgence from his latest calf injury that sparked the most hope.
After being limited to 31 games last season due to a string of nagging calf strains, Raptors fans experienced an all too familiar sight when ‘Il Mago' departed Wednesday's game versus the Washington Wizards with a bruised left calf, so his 20 points and 33-minutes against the Knicks was reassuring to say the least.
Heading back to the ACC tonight, the Dinos should look to build upon their impressive win and look to take advantage of a Milwaukee Bucks team that has lost three straight preseason games.
Again, I realize that this is the preseason so take everything that I say with a grain of salt.
1. Continue to Ride the Bench: Throughout the course of the preseason the Raptors have done a very good job at getting production from their bench. Against the Knicks, Amir Johnson showed why he is deserving of more minutes by putting up 14 points on five-of-six shooting while John Lucas continued to produce in limited minutes (12 pts in nine minutes against the Knicks). The Raptors have a ton of options at their disposal and they have the potential to boast one of the deepest benches in the NBA and there is no better time to mix-and-match your lineups than in the preseason. Personally I would like to see more minutes from Terrence Ross, who has been used sparingly over the past two games, if only to see why Brian Colangelo thought that the former Washington Husky was worthy of the eighth overall pick. It would also be nice to see a bit of Quincy Acy, who has only played four minutes throughout the entire preseason.
2. Confidence Builder: Whether it be the NFL, NHL or NBA, the preseason is written off as an extended training camp - a time to shake off the rust and get mentally and physically prepared for the upcoming season. Last year, in my final "3 in the key article," I wrote about how purposely "tanking" one of the final regular season games to the then New Jersey Nets would be detrimental to the mentality that Dwayne Casey was trying to create in Toronto and I believe that the same rings true for the preseason. Now I'm not saying that Casey should treat this game with the same intensity that he would a regular season game, nor should he risk injuring his starters in an attempt to come out on top. What I am saying is that winning, at any level, for a young head coach that is trying to turn a young and mostly inexperienced roster into a fringe playoff contender can greatly impact the team's morale. Do I think that we will look back at the preseason as being reliable indicator to how the Raptors will play out their season? Absolutely not. But I do believe that a young team playing with confidence is a very dangerous duo.
3. ‘Il Mago': This will probably be a trend for the upcoming season, but whether you care to admit it or not, night in and night out Andrea Bargnani's performance will probably be the deciding factor between a win and a loss. Saying that Bargnani has struggled this preseason would be putting it lightly, but I am more interested to see if he can play a decent amount of minutes without re-injuring his sore calf than I am his box score. It would be nice if Bargnani can replicate his box score against the Knicks (albeit with a better shooting percentage), but I believe that it would be more significant if he replicated those minutes.