AT LONG LAST!!!!
Yes, the 2013-14 NBA season got underway last night with Miami Heat usurping the Chicago Bulls in Derrick Rose's return, and the Indiana Pacers and yes, Los Angeles Lakers notching wins as well.
Tonight though the rest of the league gets in on the action including our beloved Toronto Raptors, as they face the Boston Celtics in their season, and home, opener.
Toronto did a nice job in preseason, losing only one full-length game (I'm not sure what to call the loss to Milwaukee) but obviously the bulk of those minutes went to bench options as head coach Dwane Casey looked to figure out his roster and rotations for the coming season.
His club's opponent tonight is one the Dinos are indeed familiar with, not only as a divisional rival, but also a club they faced in a quarter of their preseason games. The Boston Celtics, a team in flux, drop by the Air Canada Centre hoping to get their season off on the right foot as well.
Here are our three keys:
1) The Starters: No, we're not talking about The Basketball Jones' latest reincarnation. (Great to see the TBJ crew blow up like this as an aside.) We're talking about the formidable five-man combo of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas.
And yes, I used the word formidable.
This is likely one of the keys to the season period. Last year this group actually formed one of the top five quintets in the league, excelling at things like rim protection (better than the Pacers' starting five) and held opponents to 92.5 points per 100 possessions, the second-best mark in the NBA. If this group can pick up where it left off, or frankly, considering things like Gay's newfound eyesight and Valanciunas' natural progression, take another step, then this is immediately a big plus for the club's outlook. Tonight I'm hoping to see signs of this "starters domination" against a frankly, underwhelming Celtics' roster.
2) The Bench: Seems pretty obvious as a second point but let's explain a bit; while it seems pretty certain that the starting five will be at least an NBA average unit, the bench...could be not too far removed from a D League group.
Names like Tyler Hansbrough, DJ Augustin and even Terrence Ross are all recognizable, but none have showed a lot of NBA moxy of late. Hansbrough and Augustin were two key members of an underwhelming Indiana Pacers' bench last year, Landry Fields is still trying to find his shot, Terrence Ross still looks the part of an NBA rookie, and guys like Dwight Buycks and Austin Daye are just trying to hold onto a spot in the L.
My compatriot Braedon Clark did a bang up job yesterday breaking this group down so I won't dwell on it in this space, but suffice to say that it wouldn't surprise me this season to see the Raps have strong starts from the aforementioned five starters, only to let leads consistently slip away as the bench gets involved. The challenge will be for Dwane Casey to find the right mix so that he's not having to rely too much on his back-up group, and yet not fatigue his top-five group.
Tonight, the Raps' pine crew will need to show and prove against a scrappy Celtics' bunch, that I expect to be better than many foresee.
3) The Return of the D: The other obvious thing that jumps out to me this season is that the Raptors are going to need to return to their defensive excellency, or, at least mediocrity. Last year was a complete regression in terms of the defensive standards Coach Casey had set when he arrived, but with a slightly better armed crew on D, and hopefully a healthy season from guys like Landry Fields, Amir Johnson and Kyle Lowry, these metrics should improve.
Oh...and not having a certain pasta aficionado helps too.
Tonight I'm hoping to see that D in all its glory as the Boston Celtics for all their scrappiness, look like they're going to have major issues scoring the ball this season. The Raps need to make sure that's the case this evening, and get this season off on the right foot with a win.
(Well...unless you're more excited about seeing a certain top prospect on the Dinos next year and in that case...)
WELCOME TO THE 2013-14 TORONTO RAPTORS SEASON ALL!