Saturday, January 30, 2010

There's No Rest For The Wicked; Unless You're The Raptors

With the confidence at an all time high, the Raptors prepare themselves for their third meeting with the Indiana Pacers tomorrow afternoon at the Air Canada Centre. Sitting - not so comfortably - in the 5th seed, the Raps know that they can't relax for even a second.

Or should they?

Much has been made out of the Raps and their struggles with the second game of back to backs. More often than not, the team looks lethargic when the schedule demands they tie em up for a second day in a row. Along with the fatigue, the Raps also show an odd lack of motivation. That inspirational kind of basketball is just another weapon the elite teams of the NBA fall back on when they need that little "umph" to pull out a victory.

But then there's also the opposite end of the spectrum.

When the Raptors are allowed two days or more of rest before a game, they are a very impressive 8-0. Is it just a coincidence that we come out firing in these type of games? Or does an ample amount of rest really make the difference with us? And even though we're "perfect" in these scenarios, what does that really say about our team's conditioning level?

The Raps' next game against the Pacers just so happens to be one of those games where we are well rested. Based on this particular stat, I fully expect the team to come out inspired and energetic. With the Heat, Bobcats, and Bulls hot on our tails, the only thing that needs to be put to rest is this race for the 5th seed.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

From Turkey with Love


According to Hedo Turkoglu, that's all that was needed to be said. With a season high in points and shot attempts, the Turkey native used a single - and awkward - word to sum up exactly what the difference was in his best game as a Raptor.

Right from the start of things, Raptors fans saw a very aggressive Turkoglu. The 50 million dollar man didn't hesitate to put up shots, nor make a play for his teammates. And what about his 4 dunks? Turk looked like he was reliving his younger days, and both his teammates and him had fun with it. The aggressive and decisive manner in which he was playing with also allowed him to earn some respect from the refs (who played their part in helping him reach a team high 9 free throw attempts).

Yet perhaps Hedo forgot to give credit to another factor. The one other missing ingredient that allows Turkoglu to be his usual self:


The man was brimming with it last night, and it showed. There were no signs of the hesitance that's made him predictable and ineffective at times. Much has been made of Turk shying away from the action or simply going through the motions. Yet against the Knicks, it looked like the ball was actually drawn to him.

The scoring, the rebounding, the playmaking. Those are the reasons why he was brought into this organization. And if he can bring that kind of level of play night in and night out, then the sky is the limit for this Raptors squad.

Ball on Turk. Ball on.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Time For The Raptors To Find A New Love

Last night's win against the Miami Heat was a big one. Not only did it propel the Raptors into the 5th seed, but it allowed the team to finally move the furthest its been from the .500 mark this season. During this recent stretch of great basketball, Toronto has flirted with the .500 mark the entire way. Whether it's 1 to 2 games above or below the mark, the Raps have stayed close with such frequency that you would think they were lovestruck.

Yet with a 111-103 win in front of a stellar ACC crowd, the Raptors took the first step in getting away from an unhealthy relationship. It's typical really. The Raptors were in one of those unions where their significant other was holding them back, never wanting what was best for the Raptors. The team had dreams, goals, and ambitions to make something out of themselves, but their partner never allowed them to become the best the Raps could be. Always shielding them from growth, constantly behaving overprotective of the team, their lover always kept a close eye on the Raps; never letting them stray too far.

And for a long time, the Raptors seemed either too in love, or too clueless to realize everyone but them saw a problem. Yet slowly but surely, the transition has been taking place. And the Raps' best friends are starting to get excited about it. And why shouldn't they be? After all, they just want the Raptors to be happy.

Tonight, Canada's lone basketball team clashes with the New York Knicks. Will the team show regression and fall back into .500's arms? Or will the Raptors show more progress and finally prove to us they're ready to get past this love affair?

Monday, January 25, 2010

An Emotional Rollercoaster Ride

Last night, the Air Canada Centre held the best ticket in town - and the show did not disappoint. Those who were in attendance were treated to what may very well turn out to be Toronto's game of the year. After both teams exchanged blow after blow, the final buzzer sounded, and the Raptors walked away with a 106-105 win over the defending NBA champions.

Like the game itself, the month of January has been a very emotional rollercoaster ride. Canada's lone NBA team has surely had its lows, having to suffer sinking defeats to teams such as the Pacers (after blowing a 23 point lead) and the Bucks (a team several games below .500). Yes, these valleys have been depressing, dismal, and downright confusing. But it's the peaks of this month that have provided us with the thrill of what being an NBA fan is all about. And January's high points have come in the form of very impressive wins against the Spurs, the Magic, the Mavs, and now Kobe and his Lakers. These are no slouch teams, and it marks the first time - at least that I can remember - that the Raps have been able to beat such an impressive collection of teams in one month.

After last night's epic performance, the Raptors are now also a surprising 6-1 against Western Conference teams at home. This is an important record and point to build upon as the Raptors prepare to play a very important stretch in their schedule. Here are their next 10 games:

Miami (23-20)
@ New York (17-26)
Indiana (15-29)
@Indiana (15-29)
New Jersey (3-40)
Sacramento (15-28)
Philadelphia (15-28)
Memphis (23-19)
@ New Jersey (3-40)
Washington (14-29)

As far as I'm concerned, the Raptors can win all 10 of these games. The fact that the Raps get to play the only two teams above .500 on this stretch at home means it very well could happen; if they play with the same intensity they did with last night.

A win against the Lakers like that was just what the Raptors needed. Definitely of the "hard fought and earned" variety, the Raps just need to take all the good things from that game and build upon it. A push in the right direction. Now is the time for the Raptors to defy the odds and force this rollercoaster to ascend until they please.


To all the fake Lakers fans that were in attendance at the ACC. I'm not talking about the few L.A. fans who cheered Kobe and the LakeShow on for the entire 48 minutes, only to have to deal with ridicule afterwards. I'm pointing a finger and shaking my head at all the loud and obnoxious "Fakers" who were decked out in Lakers gear, and took every opportunity to express their happiness at the Raps and their fans' expense. Yet when the home team began to make their run and even take the lead, these same "Laker fans" began to cheer for the Raptors. What? Please, I've been to Raptors home games against the Lakers before. These same fans would have rubbed it in real good had Kobe made that final shot. Those people took the easy way out last night. For shame.


To that one Lakers fan who made boastful comments to the fans around him all game, then quickly made a run for the exit when Kobe missed the final shot. Good for him. At least he ran away with his team on his sleeve.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Give This Win To The Amazing ACC Crowd

For most of the night, the Toronto Raptors lacked it. Yet when the team needed it the most, the ACC crowd provided it. Home court advantage is something that is often cherished in professional sports, and tonight, it was especially valuable to the Raps.

With all due respect to the Bucks and their fans, the Raptors have much higher expectations. Yet when the home team could not come out firing, their fans did not give up on them and provided us with a prime example of why the Raptors have one of the best crowds in the NBA.

You could see it in the team's intensity level late in the game. The Raptors totally fed off the electric energy that was ricocheting off the arena walls. Perhaps the player that benefited the most from the excitement was Jarrett Jack. The steady point guard totaled a season high in points in the most passionate manner possible. From there, the entire team got in on the act, evident both on the court and on the bench.

In the last game, Bosh carried us. Tonight, it was you, us, Raptors Nation that proved to be the difference maker.

***Other Notes***

- I've criticized Triano a couple of times for his questionable coaching in the last few games. But tonight, he managed to win us over with his zone defense. He knew when to use it, and when to go back to man D at the perfect times. The strategy was vital in our 4th quarter run

- Secondly, I've also talked about taking it to the rim in crunch time. Tonight, the Raps did just exactly that. Our last 3 crucial scores came on a Jack penetration drive, Belinelli not settling for a jumper and driving to the rim, and a Bosh dunk. Go hard to the rim, and either make a basket or force the refs to use their whistle.

- Lastly, Turk's still struggling with his shot, but he was a lot more effective tonight than usual. I'm sure a bunch of you guys noticed how many times both Jack and Calderon gave the ball up so Hedo could initiate the offensive sets. All Raps fans are waiting now for is his shooting slump to end. Keep working Hedo! The look on your face after that layup was priceless.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Back To Back To Under .500

Words could not describe the look on Chris Bosh's face after he put up a career high 44 points only to end up losing to the Milwaukee Bucks. In all the seasons of Bosh's young career, I had never seen the Raptors' captain look so dejected. Tonight's 107-113 loss definitely proved to be a candidate for most disappointing loss up to this point in the season.

But maybe we should have seen this one coming? After all, the Raps were on the tail end of a back to back.

Before tonight's game with the Bucks, the Raps held a record of 2-5 on second games of a back to back. Here are the following games:

Dallas L 101-129
Utah L 91-104
Charlotte L 81-116
Chicago W 110-78
Milwaukee L 95-117
Orlando L 99-118
San Antonio W 91-86

In these games, the Raps are scoring an average of 95 points per game (8 below their season average), and are giving up 106 points per game (2 more points above their season average). Do the math and that's a 10 point swing.

Exactly what is going here? Are they fatigued? What about the depth of their bench? Wasn't that supposed to help? The Raptors have to find a way to dig down deep in these types of games.

***Other Notes***

- Exactly what is going on with Jay Triano? That's two straight games where he's had questionable substitutions and playcalls to close out games. Bargs was having a rough night, but Jay put him back out there to replace Amir Johnson - who just happened to be doing a pretty good job of grabbing defensive rebounds.

- So let me get this straight, our workhorse Chris Bosh, on a career night, doesn't get a touch for 4 straight possessions to close out the game? Instead, we opt for a Bargnani 3 and an Antoine Wright 3? GET BOSH THE BALL!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Too Many Missed Chances; Even More Missed Jumpers

Make no mistake about it, tonight's clash with the East's titan was a big game. With one of the best records in the NBA since December, the Toronto Raptors arrived into Cleveland on a high. Unfortunately, with the lights on (game broadcasted on national TV), the Raptors were unable to come out of it with a victory.

The final score of 108-100 is a bit deceiving, as the team in black and red actually managed to stay with the Cavs for most of the game. Every time the Cavs would make a run, the Raptors would pick up their intensity and throw a punch back. But when the game reached its climatic peak, the spotlight proved to be too bright for Toronto. Outside of Marco Belinelli, the team began to take unnecessary outside jumpers for a majority of the fourth quarter. I'm not sure what was discussed in the huddles, but it surely HAD to involve encouraging the good things they did in the first half...right?

I hate to peg him, but this really falls on Chris Bosh. Out of his team high 16 shot attempts, I maybe saw him drive to the basket two or three times. On one of those, he chose to kick it out instead of taking it to the hole, and on the other, he fumbled. Don't get me wrong, Chris Bosh is a great player, deserving of all the praise he gets. But I'm sure everyone saw how he was getting his points. They were practically all on jumpers of a high degree of difficulty. When you have slower players like Big Z or Shaq guarding you, there's no reason why you shouldn't be able to get past them and draw the foul.

Again, it still baffles me how we totally went away from what was keeping us in the game in the first place, and that's taking it to the basket. Why put in a struggling Turkoglu for Antoine Wright, who had seemingly made it his mission to drive into the lane? Why keep a tentative Jose Calderon on the court when Jack seemed to be on tonight? Both Jack and Wright don't view their outside shot as their strength, and yet they were not placed on the floor when the Raps finally cut it down to 3 after trailing by 10 in the 4th quarter. The only sub I didn't mind was Marco for DeRozan, who was being outmatched on the defensive end.

Besides all that, Raptors Nation must move on. It's not like we just lost to the worst team in the league or anything. The Cavs are awesome at home, and they are the best team in the Eastern Conference. What's got to happen next is that the Raps learn from this. The lesson? In the clutch, good teams dig down on defense and take it to the rim. Tonight, the Raps did neither.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Raptors Avoid Disaster; Get Ready For National TV

After a convincing blowout against one of the best teams in the NBA, the Toronto Raptors can finally exhale. Whew. That was a close call.

The potential nightmare began with the Raps giving up a 23 point lead, only to tragically fall to the Indiana Pacers. In the eyes of many fans, that game was a must win, especially considering Toronto had recently resurfaced from underneath the .500 mark. For the 3 day break that followed, the team had plenty of time to digest and break down exactly where they were in the grand scheme of things. The Raptors had played their best ball of the season, determined to scratch, fight, and claw their way back to respectability. The .500 mark was the goal. And as quickly as they had reached it, it slipped away.

With an equally surging New York team on the horizon, and then two games against NBA elites (Mavs and Cavs) after that, the Raptors knew they could have potentially dropped back to 4 games under .500. After all the hard work it had taken to get where they were, such a scenario would have proven to be that proverbial dagger in the Raptors' hearts.

But with the pressure on, the team arrived into New York and took care of business. Led by the inspired play of Andrea Bargnani, the Raps broke even with their record. And then of course there was the spectacular performance against the Dallas Mavericks. Even with the second best record in the West, Disco Dirk and company were unable to drop the Raps back under .500.

And so here we are today. Disaster averted. Instead of being several games below .500, the Raptors now confidently prepare for their date with the Cleveland Cavaliers. This won't be any regular meet and greet either. The Cavs likely remember the game they lost to Toronto at the beginning of the season and will look to even the series on national television. No stranger to the spotlight, LeBron James has gotten his Cavaliers playing at an incredibly higher level than when they last met the Raps.

For James, this is nothing but a regularity, the concept of playing in front of the entire country of America. But for the Raps, this is a relatively foreign territory. The Raptors have had only one nationally televised game, and that was against the hot San Antonio Spurs; a meeting they made the most out of.

This Tuesday, on NBA TV, the Raptors will have yet another opportunity to make ground in the standings. If there's anytime to prove that they have finally turned the corner, it will be then. Many eyes will be watching, but it will be the noise they make if they win that will matter the most.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

You Can't Spell Bargnani Without The Word Bargain

Much has been made out of the recent level of play from Andrea Bargnani. In the first month of the new year, the former number one overall pick has averaged 18.6 pts, 8 reb, and 2.5 blk. Along with being the first "European" player to ever be selected number one overall as well as being the latest selection following a slew of failed Raptors picks, Bargnani was destined to be over analyzed by the Toronto fan base. And once you consider the ever real possibility of Chris Bosh leaving due to free agency, expectations have never been higher for the Italian born 7 footer.

Over the past summer, Toronto Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo decided to award his young star with a 5 year contract extension. The contract which includes a total of 50 million dollars, would kick into effect immediately after the 09-10 season; in which he is already slated to earn 6.5 million. As soon as the news broke, a generally mixed review could be heard throughout Raptors Nation. On one hand, a group of fans felt - as well as basketball enthusiasts south of the border - that the Raptors organization had overpaid. After all, Bargnani had garnered the reputation of a shooting guard in a center's body. On the other hand, some Raptors fans felt that this contract extension could turn out to be one of the best bargains a few years from now if Andrea could manage to progress into what everyone hoped he would.

And so now with a few months into the season, let's take a little look at how Il Mago compares to other NBA centers who are similar in age and are past their rookie scale contract. [To avoid inflation due to Andrea's recent surge, we'll use his regular season numbers; as well as past centers' numbers if they are currently battling injury]

Andrea Bargnani [24 years old]
17 pts, 6.4 reb, 1.4 blk
50 mil/5 years = 10/year

Andrew Bynum [22 years old]
15.5 pts, 8.4 reb, 1.7 blk
40 mil/3 years = 13.3/year

Tyson Chandler [27 years old]
11.8 pts, 11.7 reb, 1.1 blk [not current season numbers]
25 mil/2 years = 12.5/year

Nene [27 years old]
14 pts, 8 reb, 1 blk
33 mil/3 years = 11 mil/year

Andris Biedrins [23 years old]
11.9 pts, 11.2 reb, 1.6 blks [not current season numbers]
45 mil/5 years = 9 mil/year

Andrew Bogut [25 years old]
15 pts, 10 reb, 2 blk
60 mil/5 years = 12 mil/year

Although we don't have a large enough of a sample to conclude whether or not we got a bargain, it does seem that we certainly did not overpay. Out of these 5 centers, Bargnani looks destined to put up the most points throughout their careers. In regards to blocks, Andrea is in the middle of the pack and has shown a determination to get better (averaging over 2 blocks in the last 10 games). The only thing he's lacking on are the rebounds; a stat that many have bothered to take the time to point out.

So will Andrea live up to the expectations of his contract? What about the expectations of Raptors fans all over the world? What would be a good measuring stick for us to compare and/or be satisfied with? It's really tough to tell at this moment, but let me throw out one last set of numbers for you to chew on.

13.6 pts, 9.8 reb, 1.3 blks
11.6 million/year

Out of the 5 centers listed above, this is what you get when you calculate their averages in stats and contract. Sports agents typically use past contracts as precedent for their own clients. Centers such as Horford, Noah, and Gasol will eventually reach the end of their rookie deals. Will their agents use Bargnani as precedent? Or will they just conveniently sweep it under the rug?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Raps Waiting On Turk? Or Turk Waiting On Raps?

For Raptors fans everywhere, the water cooler topic of choice dives into one mind boggling question - What's wrong with Hedo Turkoglu? The Toronto Raptors' past summer was highlighted by the fact they were able to snag to most sought after free agent of the offseason. Touted as the most lucrative free agent to ever choose Toronto as their NBA destination, Turkoglu brought with him hope as well as a reputation. Capable of hitting game winning shots, and known for showing up in pressure games, Raptors fans expected all that and then some when the team awarded him with a 5 year contract worth 50 million dollars.

Now nearing the halfway mark of the season, the Raptors sit at 19-20, and Hedo Turkoglu is currently in a funk that could safely be called his worst stretch as a Raptor. And what of that glorious reputation he had? At first glance, it seems as though it did not make the trip from Orlando. Other than the shot he hit in Washington, Turk has missed, fumbled, and thrown away several opportunities to prove to Toronto that he still has it. Has Hedo already started to decline in skill? Or are the Toronto Raptors not placing their prized acquisition in a position to succeed?

Well, let's examine a thing or two to help us come to a conclusion.

In the NBA, there is a particular advanced stat called "usage rate". This stat informs us how many possessions a player uses per game while on the court, and can be a good indicator of how involved of a role a player has in the team's offensive scheme. Here are the usage rates for Turk in his last year in Orlando, and his first year as a Rap:

Orlando: 23.00
Toronto: 18.75

As you can see, Turk is averaging over 4 less possessions here in Toronto. For those possessions, exactly what is he doing instead of handling the ball? Based purely on observations, it seems as though Hedo has been regulated as a spot up shooter - a very expensive spot up shooter. Though he has knocked down his fair share of shots, Turk is settling into a role here in Toronto that he's not familiar with. In game 7 between the Magic and the Celtics, Turk found himself initiating the offense, being proactive instead of reactive to whatever the defense threw at him. Perhaps this was a product of his environment? In the playoffs, Turk often found himself on the floor with:

Howard/Lewis and any two of Alston/Pietrus/Redick/Johnson/

Any combination of 5 players left Turkoglu as the team's best bet in regards to the role of primary ball handler. Combined with his height and dangerous shot, he proved to be a mismatch against whatever team tried to stand in their way. Here in Toronto, this is the lineup Hedo must play with in crunch time:


Unlike in Orlando, Turkoglu must coexist with two other point guards who are more than capable of handling the ball. And when you count Marco Belinelli, another capable playmaker off the bench, it becomes a very crowded room for the 6'10 Turkish point forward.

Another fun stat we can use is "Assist Percentage". This is basically the percent of field goals a player assisted while he/she is on the court. When we combine that with usage rate and compare Orlando's two point guards to Toronto's, this is what we get:

Alston (29 MIN) - USG: 21.25; %AST: 30.1
Johnson (18 MIN) - USG: 15.52; %AST: 37.7

Calderon (30 MIN) - USG: 16.59; %AST: 36.5;
Jack (28 MIN) - USG: 17.38; %AST: 34.1;

Immediately, you can conclude two things:

1. In Toronto, Turkoglu must play with two playmaking point guards who play heavy minutes
2. Rafer Alston dominated the point guard minutes in Orlando, and though his usage rate is the highest of any of the 4 point guards mentioned, he also has the lowest assist percentage; hinting that he was likely used as a shooter.

Regardless of what side of the fence you're on in this discussion, one thing is certain: The Raptors need Hedo to perform like he did last year. Ideally, you'd like to see the Raps and Turk meet in the middle. On one side, adjust the offensive scheme so that Turk has the ball in his hands more, and on the other side, Turk must make the best of whatever opportunities are presented to him.

He isn't in Orlando anymore, but Raps fans would love to finally see that magic again.

Monday, January 11, 2010

A Deeper Look At The Raptors' Third Quarter Meltdowns

How sickening was that?

After coming off a string of games that could safely be considered their best basketball of the season, the Raptors have now lost 2 in a row. The latest coming at the hands of the lowly Indiana Pacers after building a 23 point lead. I'm convinced it's become routine now, those third quarter meltdowns the Raps have gone through countless times this season. If there was a stat for most amount of leads of 10+ given up, I'd bet that the Raptors are at least in the top 5 of the league. Whether it has to do with fatigue, talent, or mental aspects, we're just not able to consistently pull it out. I noted yesterday that it's the elite teams in the NBA that are able to establish leads and keep the opposition at bay; regardless of how extensive the runs are.

The root of the problem lies in the third quarter. Here are the 3rd quarter point totals in the last 10 Raptor losses (outscored bolded).

TOR: 19 IND: 26
TOR: 30 BOS: 34
TOR: 19 BOS: 20
TOR: 25 ORL: 26
TOR: 24 MIA: 31
TOR: 23 ATL: 28
TOR: 29 MIL: 26
TOR: 30 ATL: 39
TOR: 23 WAS: 17
TOR: 27 PHX: 34

In the last 10 losses, the Raptors have lost the battle of the 3rd quarter 8 times. They are averaging 24.9 points per game in the 3rd quarter of these particular losses. Scoring is not the problem here. The Raptors basically put up 25 points in the 3rd frame, which fits nicely with their average of 103 points per game - that's good for 3rd best in the league. However, it's the defense that's killing them. On average, they are giving up a whopping 28.1 points per game in the 3rd quarter. That would be good for a total of 112.4 points per game if they played on that pace the entire way through (good enough for last in the NBA).

The other interesting part is that this reality is relevant in the games we WIN as well! (outscored bolded)

TOR: 34 PHI: 25
TOR: 28 ORL: 19
TOR: 19 SA: 21
TOR: 29 CHA: 24
TOR: 14 DET: 28
TOR: 20 DET: 14
TOR: 25 NO: 22
TOR: 24 NJ: 27
TOR: 20 HOU: 21
TOR: 21 MIN: 28

In our last 10 wins, we've been outscored in the 3rd quarter half of the time. Not surprisingly, all but one of the teams that we've beaten (San Antonio) are in the bottom half of the league in field goal percentage. Are we playing defense? Or just lucking out?

I'm sure our coaching staff is already well aware of this trend, but I think it's gotten to a point where we have to do something differently. Whether it's a change in the rotations in the 3rd quarter, or a shift in the game plan to keep the game manageable; something must be done to change our fortunes in the 3rd. Because what happens in that quarter sets the tone for the rest of the second half. If the Raps can find a way to step on an opponent's throat right after halftime, it greatly reduces the chance of any comeback for the rest of the game.

Stat of the Half: Raps @ Pacers Jan.11/10

SotH: 13; that is the number of touches Hedo Turkoglu received in the first 21 possessions of the game.

It was made obvious right away, part of tonight's game plan was to get Hedo the ball more often. This was certainly a reactionary move of the coaching staff to the comments our prized free agent made after yesterday's game against the Celtics. After a quick - and usually questionable - miss by the Pacers, the Raptors found Hedo and let him run the offense. And the result? Good things happened. The Raptors were able to jump on them in the first quarter; an extreme opposite to what happened against Boston. Though he only finished the half with two assists (one of them including a ridiculous hip pass which resulted in a DeRozan alley oop), there were several other instances where he either made the pass that led to the assist, or resulted in a teammate not being able to hit a clean look.

Another interesting stat that I have to bring up is that in the 10 minutes Hedo was on the court in the first quarter, he went 0 for 0 from the field. With the ball in his hands that often, he's got to be a tad selfish at times. When he's making his shots, it makes the Raps harder to beat. If he wants the ball in his hands, then he has to make the magic happen from all accounts of the offensive attack.

At the half, Turk's statline includes:

7 pts, 4 reb, 2 ast, 66%FG, 100%3pt, 2-2 FT

Way to bounce back Turk.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Raptors Need To Take It More Personal

Even with his eyes closed, Rondo was still able to help the Celtics get by the Raptors this Sunday afternoon with a final score of 114-107. And with his eyes open, the pesky Boston point guard was able to notch his 3rd career regular season triple double. That's starting to really tick me off, you know, the fact that we're always so prone to helping another team's player find their way to a career benchmark.

And while Rondo was having one of the better season games of his career, our 50 million dollar prized possession had his worst game as a Raptor. With a whopping 5 points, and a disastrous night from the field, Turk was anything but helpful in a game that the Raptors needed to get. While we've yet to reach the official half mark of the NBA season, Toronto's team has had more than its fair share of chances to redeem themselves.

Three examples come to mind right away. After being dismantled by Atlanta, we show up with an equally disappointing effort on OUR home court in the rematch. After letting one slip away in Phoenix, the Raps had a chance to even the series one game after Pierce punked the team captain. The result at the ACC? A 19 point dubbing at the hands of the Suns. And then of course the men in green seem to be our kryptonite. After being humiliated by them twice, the Raptors just couldn't find a way to come out of the gates guns blazing. Instead, we let an elite team jump on us with a 10-0 lead.

Everyone always wonders if the Raptors will ever play hard for a full 48 minutes. But that's not the problem. No team in the NBA plays hard for an entire game; that's why there are runs in the game of basketball. Instead, what the Raptors need to work on is establishing a new attitude. One that's defined by not letting teams bully you around. There's nothing wrong with getting beat up once. What matters is getting back up, making adjustments, and demanding it doesn't happen again.

"Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

Until this team decides to take it more personal, the joke's on us.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Shoot For Ball; Do or Die

Ok, well maybe not the extent some of you interpreted that. Then again, you may be a tad lost if you didn't get any meaning from the title. After all, this is a basketball blog. More specifically, this is a blog, a website, a journal dedicated to the Toronto Raptors. It's my shot attempt at a basket that consists of more than just two points, a rim connected to a mesh of thousands of interconnecting fans. It's crowded in here, but I like the pressure this situation brings. Everyone is eager for the opening possession, but I'm here for the long run, whether it's up to 11 or 21. Why? Because I love to help write a Cinderella story as much as I love to read the defense. But most importantly, I love to entertain. That sold out stadium is breathtaking. There's not a better feeling than an audience you've earned the respect of.

And so they watch.

And so do I.

Watch the ball release from my fingertips. And into the air. Then into an airball...

Call wind. But we're inside the gym...

Call foul. But no one was even near me....

Pretend you just finished lifting weights even though you show no particular muscle development.

Whatever the next move is, one thing is for certain, this won't be like anything you expected or are used to. So what? You missed the shot for 'first ball'. Big deal. It's a long game. There'll be more shots to come. And more after that. And then more after that. And you'll knock em down one by one. Or at least you hope. Because at the end of the day, it's not what you say in the beginning, but what you say near the end.