Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Raptors Rundown Podcast - Episode 3



Check out episode 3 of the Raptors Rundown Podcast. All the great feedback on the show is helping me stay consistent with the show. Keep them coming! If you'd like to guest co-host for an episode, don't hesitate to contact me via email, and I'm sure we can get something worked out.

This week, I have Abish from tdot-sports.com to help me discuss the latest happenings in the world of the Toronto Raptors. Topics include recent lineup changes to the starting 5, the laziness and lack of effort shown by the team, controversy surrounding Colangelo and Turk, Chris Bosh's recent play, and the week to come for the Raps. On top of that, Abish gives you his pick for this week's Raptor Factor.

You can find Abish on twitter here: TDotSports



Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Amazing Race



Other than the weekly reality show that airs on your television screen every Sunday, there is one race that truly pushes your mental and physical strength to the limit. To succeed, it requires cutthroat strategy, an unprecedented determination, and even a little bit of luck. With every team's eyes set on the same prize, you have to make a decision: Step up or be stepped on.

I'm no Phil Keoghan, but let's take a look at the final leg of the race for the post-season. Here are what challenges lay ahead for the Raptors, Bobcats, and the Bulls:

Raptors Schedule (8th):
vs. Clippers
@ Philly
vs. Golden State
@ Cleveland
vs. Boston
@ Atlanta
vs. Chicago
@ Detroit
vs. New York

Bobcats Schedule (7th):
vs. Philly
vs. Milwaukee
@ Chicago
vs. Atlanta
@ New Orleans
@ Houston
vs. Detroit
@ New Jersey
vs. Chicago

Chicago Schedule (9th):
vs. Phoenix
@ Washington
vs. Charlotte
vs. Milwaukee
vs. Cleveland
@ New Jersey
@ Toronto
vs. Boston
@ Charlotte

On a quick first glance, it seems as though the Bulls have the most difficult schedule. The only games they really should be expected to win no matter what would be the games against Washington and New Jersey. Every other team on that schedule will be fighting desperately for playoff positioning.

The Bobcats' schedule isn't that bad, but I wouldn't say it's the easiest of the 3 provided. They have three games that can easily be had against Philly, New Jersey, and Detroit. But the rest include a formidable group of teams that have either something to prove or want to finish ahead of Charlotte.

As for the Raptors, I can honestly say they have the easiest schedule of these teams. This is of course assuming they play with the same type of effort they've shown the last three games. If they do, and that's a big IF, I see them having no problem taking care of the Clippers, Sixers, Warriors, Bulls, Pistons, and Knicks. Getting even 1 of the BIG 3 stretch (Cavs, Celtics, Hawks) would also prove to be huge.

Remember Raptors Nation, Toronto holds the tiebreaker over both Charlotte and Chicago. This little fact could prove to be very significant down the stretch. This makes it even more difficult for Chicago to pass us and for Charlotte to finish ahead of us.

Since my NCAA bracket went down the drain a long time ago, I'm going to attempt to make myself feel better here and give you guys my crazy prediction for all 3 teams:

Raptors: 7-2
Bobcats: 6-3
Chicago: 3-6

That would leave us with a final Eastern Conference standing of:

7. Charlotte: 44-38
8. Toronto: 43-39
9. Chicago: 38-44

Unfortunately, that wouldn't be enough to finish ahead of Charlotte, thus giving us a date with King James and his Cavs. Obviously, this is just some prediction from some random Raptors fan, and a lot can happen from here on out; but I totally expect it to play out something similar to this.

Regardless, this is a race and the Raptors are in it. And though it took forever for them to get a clue, the point is it looks like they've got it. But now it's the final leg of the race. And with the last pit stop in sight, it's time to shift into another gear, because the last team there will be eliminated.

Monday, March 29, 2010

With Spring Comes Meltdowns Or Sunshine



It's funny how things work sometimes.

At around this point last year, the Toronto Raptors were playing very inspired basketball. After a horrendous and disappointing season, the team managed to get everything to come together. As a result, the Raps ended up winning 9 of the last 13 games of the season. The kicker? They were already well out of the playoff race.

Fast forward to the present, and here comes the depressing part.

While in the center of the storm that is the playoff race, the Raptors have managed to lose 10 out of the last 14 games. To say the month of March has been a total disaster would definitely be an understatement. It almost seems like every game, Toronto finds a new way to lose. To make matters worse, everyday fans read another new yet disturbing revelation about the team in the papers. One day it's Colangelo saying he feels the team has individual agendas, and then the next day it's Turkoglu seemingly faking a stomach flu. On top of that, this team has had some of the most frustrating meltdowns I've seen a Raptors squad go through. Yet the most frustrating of all has been the season itself.

And even still, it's not too late to save it.

Currently sitting in the 8th seed, only a half game above Chicago and three games below Charlotte, the Raps' remaining 10 games of the season is quite manageable. Ignoring the Charlotte game tonight for just a minute, the 9 games after that looks like this:

Clippers
Sixers
Warriors
Cavs
Celtics
Hawks
Bulls
Pistons
Knicks

Regardless of the fact this team has lost its last two games despite the new starting lineup, fans who have stuck with the Raptors can still spot the difference in play. This isn't the same team that got blown out by 30 to the Thunder and the Jazz. The plays have clearly turned up the intensity and sense of urgency, but have unfortunately unable to finish strong.

Let's say they keep that exact level of play for the last 10 games. I think if they can manage to do that, wins will probably come against the Clippers, Sixers, Warriors, Bulls, Pistons, and the Knicks. And even if the Raps lose the games they're expected to lose, they'd still finish around .500 - which sadly will be good enough to finish in the 8th seed.

Of course, finishing in the 8th seed may be just as bad as missing the playoffs to some; but not to the players. It's these players - the same ones many in this city have given up on - that put in the work each and everyday to get a chance to play in the post season. They realize they've let Toronto down tremendously. I say give them a chance to redeem themselves and make it up to us. This roster just needs a brand new start, and that's exactly what the playoffs is. If this team plays hard, win or lose, I can guarantee a pretty exciting first round match-up.

Obviously, things wouldn't look very good for Toronto as they'd have to stay in front of the train that is LeBron James. But that's why there are such things as "upsets". And if the NBA Playoffs turns out to be anything like this year's NCAA tournament, you'll end up attached to your couch, eyes glued on the television, while cheering on the team you're so hopelessly in love with.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Effort Too Mellow For Jazz



Really? That was it?

Exactly where was the effort tonight? Does this team not get it? Tonight's performance by the Raptors had to be the worst display of effort ever seen by a team fighting for a playoff spot - Ever.

This is the time of the year you want to hit your stride. It's at this point of the season where all excuses are left at the door. With the playoffs just around the corner, you're either doing one of two things:

1) Getting ready for the lottery.
2) Jockeying for better playoff positioning.

And truth be told - based on the last few games - the Raptors look like they're going with number 1 on that list. What absolutely boggles the mind is the fact that it's not like the Raptors are in a bad position. The magic number countdown that so often pops up with Leafs fans is irrelevant (for now) in Raptors Nation. And it's not like the Raptors are necessarily trying to chase an 8th seed, nor are they depending on other teams to help them out. Their playoff destiny is entirely in their hands.

And yet time after time again, the effort isn't there. How many blowouts can one team victimize itself through before the intensity picks up? Is it too much to ask for the Raptors play hard every game? Scratch that - make that every other game.

The magic Raptors formula: Effort + Skill + Some Luck = Success.

Just look at the recent Atlanta game.

My solution: Triano - it's time to be bold.

And no, I'm not talking about something like taking Jack out of the starting lineup for Jose. Nope. Think bolder. Why? Because whatever you've done so far, well, it's not working. It's not even close to working. If it were up to me, I'd want to blow this team up and do a complete rebuild. A different theme, a different attitude, and a different perspective on both sides of the court. But with the season dwindling down, it's too late for that. Such an act would have to wait. So how do we change it up with the resources we have and the realistic options we have available to us?

Play anyone and everyone ready to commit on the defensive end. From keeping your man in front of you, to boxing out, to cleaning up the glass. Triano shouldn't care about whether or not someone scores 20 points. All that should matter is you play defense.

Disgusting Fact of the Night: The Raptors have given up at least 100 points in 14 of their last 16 games. A petty Knicks team almost got there with 96, while the juggernaut New Jersey Nets could only put up 90.

Triano should not hesitate to take away minutes from Reggie and Bargnani if it means getting more court time for Amir. He shouldn't be afraid to give Banks some of the time Jack and Jose are seeing. And go ahead and give Sonny more burn as well. Do something, anything! Because teams are clinching playoff spots left and right.

The time's ticking Toronto.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

With A Side Of Red - Mar.23 [Being Lazy Is A Skill; Not Everyone Does It]



Just like hustle right?...

Regardless of what your answer is to that, let's kick off another edition of "With A Side Of Red" - your favorite side dish of random Raptors related tidbits. A good number of people seemed to have enjoyed the God of War 3 theme I used in the last WSR, so I find it pretty hilarious that the theme this time around involves the one word that has been thrown around a lot in Raptors Nation lately: Lazy.

From Kratos to laziness...nice.

If you looked on twitter, message boards, your IM - you'd know what I was talking about. If the topic was the Toronto Raptors, then the word "lazy" was included at least once somewhere throughout the day. What started it all? This handy dandy article from Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.Com:

Toronto's Bargnani still searching for a little consistency

The piece starts off with this line:

"The fifth month of the fourth season, and still no conclusion. Except that Andrea Bargnani is lazy."

First, if there's one thing that us Raptors fans can conclude, it's that our neighbors South of us sure do know how to reel us in. Journalists and whoever else associated with the media know by now, if you'd like to see the biggest increase spike in traffic you've ever seen in your career, all you have to do is say something bad about the Toronto Raptors. It works like a charm every time.

Btw: Bargnani finished last night's game with 19 pts, 7 reb, 4 ast, 2 stl and was the Raptors' broadcast crew's "Just Energy Player of the Game". Funny stuff.

And then of course, this morning we have an article out of the Toronto Star by Dave Feschuck. Check it out here to help me avoid my tendency not to include sources:

Raptors nearly felled by lowly Timberwolves

This time around, we have Sonny Weems (who keep in mind is 24 years old and is practically an NBA rookie) with this quote:

“Just play defence, that’s all we’ve got to do,” said Weems. “I think some people just don’t buy into it. It’s just some people being lazy. Once we buy into it, we can be a great team.”

Ah - there's that word again. Just never seems to escape us. It's like the Raptors' version of Jason, Freddy Kruger, and Michael Myers rolled into one.

Next on WSR - how can I have a "lazy" theme and not include the one Toronto Raptor that has been ragged on all year for looking out of shape. Hint: He loves pizza!



Hedo Turkoglu!

But of course, as Raptors fans know, you can always expect the unexpected, or better yet, you can always expect what doesn't make sense. When the Raptors are on a high, they show up with a weak performance, and vise versa. So with all this talk about laziness, it was only fitting that Turk had one of his best 4th quarters of the season.

When the game got close, the team constantly put the ball in Hedo's hands to make plays. The ball handling skills he possesses at his height makes him deadly in PnR situations. Here's perhaps the most significant play he created late in the 4th with the Raps only up by 2.



Jack brings the ball up the court to begin the offensive set. Meanwhile Turk goes as far up the wing as it takes to bring his man near the free throw line extended. He uses a small Bargnani screen (or what is supposed to be...) and makes his way towards Jack to receive the hand-off.



Hedo gets the ball and is now in the basic and fundamental triple threat position (though he could have gotten the ball a little closer to the 3pt line just in case he wanted to shoot). Bosh prepares himself to go set the screen for Turk. Everyone on Minnesota knows what's about to happen, so they set their entire focus on stopping it.



Bosh sets the pick, and Turk takes his dribble towards the basket. Knowing they can't give Turk the shot, the Wolves defender goes over the screen. The goal here is to make the defense react and take whatever they give you. Having run this set to death throughout his career, Hedo knows what will be available to him. If Hedo takes it strong to the basket, Al Jefferson - the Minney player in the middle - must pick his poison. He can either stick on Bosh's roll to the basket, and hope Brewer fills in (which leaves Wright open in the corner); or he can stick on Hedo and hope Love helps him with Bosh's roll to the bucket (which leaves Bargnani open for 3). Being about 6'10 helps Turk see over the defense for the best decision.



The Wolves collapse into the paint in an attempt to contain Hedo's penetration or Bosh's decision to roll or pop. This leave both Antoine Wright and Andrea Bargnani open for a clean look at a three pointer. Turk makes the easier pass of the two, and Wright eventually knocks down the basket.

The Raptors went to Turk consecutive times late in the game to make plays for them and it worked out well. Some would point to the fact that it was against the Wolves, but when done right and consistently, Turk can be a force in the PnR scenarios. Just ask Boston and Cleveland.

Last up on the biggest edition ever of "With A Side of Red" [The lazy edition mind you], I've got episode 2 of the Raptors Rundown podcast. This episode is co-hosted with Anton, who is the author and creator of the Toronto Huskies Blog. Topics include Chris Bosh's performance and level of play since his return from the injury, the team's inability to feed the hot hand, Wright's criticism of DeRozan and Weems, Jack's demotion to the bench, and the meltdown against OKC. On top of that, Anton gives you his pick for this week's Raptors Factor.

Hope you enjoy it!





Whatever you happen to be doing Raptors fans, I hope you enjoyed it With A Side of Red!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Raptors Rundown Podcast - Episode 2



I want to say sorry to the readers of this blog for not being to churn anything out over the weekend. I was pretty busy on Saturday, and yesterday - well - I can safely say I was working hard on this. Check out episode 2 of the Raptors Rundown Podcast! The soon-to-be one podcast you refer to for the latest happenings in the world of the Toronto Raptors.

This episode is co-hosted with Anton, who is the author and creator of the Toronto Huskies Blog. Topics include Chris Bosh's performance and level of play since his return from the injury, the team's inability to feed the hot hand, Wright's criticism of DeRozan and Weems, Jack's demotion to the bench, and the meltdown against OKC. On top of that, Anton gives you his pick for this week's Raptors Factor.

Hope you enjoy it!



Friday, March 19, 2010

Thunder Is Just Loud Noise; And Raps Ready To Make Some Of Their Own



If the Raptors can sustain the effort and level of play they showed off against the Hawks, then suddenly, their objective changes. No longer is it simply just: Make the playoffs. But now it's: Do whatever it takes to finish above the 8th seed.

Winning a playoff series would be monumental in the grand scheme of things. Not only would it be the team's first playoff series win since that guy who jumps high was here, but it would play a huge role in convincing Bosh to stay here. It's all about moving forward, and the Raptors have their best shot at doing that with the 7th, 6th, and 5th seeds. Fans of this team may quickly point to the fact that we've played Cleveland very well this year - and they would have a legit point.

But let's face it. Does anyone honestly think that LeBron's potential final year in Cleveland will end in the first round of the playoffs to the Toronto Raptors? I don't see it happening. Our defense is already bad enough. But imagine not even being able to breath on James? Frustration to no end.

So now with a confidence building win over Atlanta, the Raptors now welcome yet another team very similar to the Hawks. Kevin Durant and his OKC boys practically embarrassed Toronto in their one and only previous meeting this season. And it was expected. I've said it time after time again; Toronto has trouble playing against teams with fast and athletic wings and that boast undersized yet skilled and strong big men. If we can somehow find a way to steal the win tonight, it'll help solidify one very important fact - The Raptors can hang with anyone at home.

Adding the Thunder to a list that includes the Cavs, Lakers, Mavs, and Hawks looks nice on that NBA resume doesn't it?

You never want to look too far ahead, but if you can grab a win tonight, the Raps are potentially looking at a 5 game winning streak (Nets and Wolves just around the corner). How big would that be? A basketball game is said to be a game of runs. But when you think "bigger picture", that same observation could be made about the entire season. Obviously, what matters most is that you finish strong.

For Toronto, that started against the Hawks, and will look to continue tonight.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Batman and Robin(s)



The headline on NBA.Com?

Bosh Saves The Day

But for those who actually took in the game last night, they know what really happened. Sure, if you want to get technical, then yes - Bosh did save the day. After all, it was he who was relied on in the clutch situations of last night's game. Two of the final three possessions went through Bosh, and consequently, CB4 converted those 2 possessions into buckets. Bosh also managed to eclipse the 10,000 point mark - the first ever Raptor to do so. But there was no doubt in the minds of Raptors fans everywhere, that with our backs up against the ropes, there was no bigger pair of points than this particular bucket:



Yet - could Bosh's shining moment have been made possible without the help of his team? Most definitely not.

Going into the 4th quarter, Bosh had a petty 6 points. For most of the game, the Raptors' captain did not look like the All-Star we had been spoiled with throughout the season. There wasn't any explosion in his first step. His jumpers were short. And the emotion wasn't there for about 44 minutes of the game. Some will quickly say "Who can blame him?" And those same people would be justified, because this team has let him down one too many times.

Going into last night's bout, anyone and everyone pegged Atlanta to blow Toronto out of the water for the third straight meeting, and perhaps Bosh did as well. Fortunately for Raptors Nation, Bosh's teammates had other ideas. While Bosh was practically invisible on the court and the stat sheet for about 3 quarters, his team stepped up and matched the Hawks punch for punch.

Bargnani - someone often criticized for not being able to provide the load when Bosh went down with injury - was perhaps the best player for Toronto last night. The Italian finished the opening quarter with 11 points, and ultimately the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds.

The young rookie DeMar DeRozan finally became that athletic wing player the Raptors have so desperately coveted. He played respectable defense (despite Crawford filling it up) and constantly attacked the rim. The fast break points he provided was something that I felt wasn't applauded enough.

Believe it or not - but Turk also made his case for most effective Raptor of the night as well. His shot showed signs of coming back to form in Portland, and luckily for us, it seemed to have traveled with him back to Toronto. He made plays, rebounded, and even dove for a couple of loose balls. On top of that, he even got out of that 1st quarter without recording a foul! Canada's "Do You Believe" campaign can now finally end

Lastly. Let's give it up to someone who has been under constant fire since the Raptors went into a downward spiral. Though not an actual player on the roster, this specific individual also played his part in setting up Bosh for his game winner. Congratulations Jay Triano! After drawing a foul, Hedo Turkoglu went to the line in an attempt to tie the game. Before the second free throw, Triano subbed in Amir Johnson for rebounding purposes. Turk surprisingly missed the second shot, which Amir (unsurprisingly) quickly tracked down before scrambling for the loose ball amidst the overwhelming number of Hawks players around him. The result? Toronto regaining possession with 10 seconds left.

Make no mistake about it, Chris Bosh isn't the only one on this team who cares about winning. Bosh felt like the route of calling his team out in the media was what was necessary, and his teammates responded. Sure, you can point out the fact that Bosh has certainly carried his team more often than his team has carried him, but why keep score? The main point that was made last night was that this team isn't ready to give up on Bosh or on the city.

Success and failure are usually placed on opposite ends of the spectrum; when they shouldn't be. Because at the end of the day, they're companions, like the hero and the sidekick. And on this night against the Atlanta Hawks, Bosh couldn't have saved the day like Batman without his army of Robins.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Johnson and Wright Won't Come Out To Play Today



The good news?

Due to an Achilles injury, the Batman of the Atlanta Hawks will not be able to suit up tonight against the Toronto Raptors. Which works out nicely considering the recent struggles of this Raptors squad. Basically averaging 21, 5 and 5 this year, Johnson has played his role in cementing Atlanta's place in the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.

The bad news?

The Hawks usually kill us using a balanced attack.

Interesting Fact: The Hawks had 9 players score in double digits in our first meeting, and 6 players score in double digits in the second game. Evans, Williams, and Smith finished with 9 points.

Sure - having Johnson sit will help. But it's the style of play Atlanta thrives on that hurts us. The constant pressure from their defense forces turnovers, which helps them run teams out of the gym.

As for the Raptors, a combination of good and bad news: Antoine Wright will not be able to play tonight. It's good news because he hasn't exactly been playing great lately. During the 4 game trip, he managed to score a whopping 1 point in total. Think about it - he's actually played at least 10 minutes a game in the last week, but he hasn't made a single shot since March 7 (where he went 2 for 10...). Obviously, the bad news is that he still happens to be a very good piece we can throw at an athletic and gifted wing team like Atlanta...

3 Keys to the Game:
1. Transition D (ATL wants to play athletic and fast with us)
2. Squeeze The Orange (Like NBA2K10 always says...)
3. No helping/Stay on Shooters (No need to double down on Horford. Instead worry about Bibby, Crawford, and Evans.)

It's a big night for Toronto Raptors fans. If we can manage to win this one - it would do wonders for the locker room, media, and Raptors Nation. Catch the game tonight on TSN2 @ 7:00 EST.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

With A Side Of Red - Mar.16/10 [In the End, There Will Only Be Chaos]



Said the man in this picture: "If all those on Olympus would deny me my vengeance, then all of Olympus will die."

Get er' done BC?

In honor of the release of God of War 3 today, I bring you the deepest shade of "With A Side Of Red" ever. Just like on Mount Olympus - it's not looking good right now in Raptors Nation. Colangelo is panicking more than Zeus is. Why? Because he knows that the wrath of Raptors fans was what gave birth to whatever Kratos is so upset about. The despair and treachery the God of War games use as themes have nothing on what the Raptors camp looks like at the moment. Here's Jack and Bosh opening Pandora's Box:





Next up on our ascent of Mount Olympus, we have this guy. Remember him?



Don't get it twisted, us Raptors fans, we played our part in driving Sam Mitchell out of town. The media got on it, fans were calling for his head. And don't pretend like you forgot the official "Fire Sam Mitchell" website. Yet now, there's already a handful of us who are wishing he was back with the team. This team needs a kick in the butt, and Mitchell would be the type of guy who would rain chaos - just ask Rafer Alston. Sam dropped by to speak on the FAN590 this morning, take a listen:

Sam Mitchell on the FAN590

And lastly, if you missed it yesterday, (since we did upload it a bit later on in the day) here's the first ever episode of the Raptors Rundown Podcast. Thanks again to Rose Arcana for helping me out. For those who'd like to help me co-host an episode, just let me know via email.





And there you guys have it - your daily fix of Raptors related tidbits before we take on that really athletic team we hate so much. Unless this team gets angry enough to want to change something, tomorrow will not be pretty. Solution? Sign Kratos to a 10 day contract and watch him intimidate anyone who comes into the lane. I'd pay to watch.

Whatever you happen to be doing Raptors fans, I hope you enjoyed it With A Side of Red!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Raptors Rundown Podcast - Episode 1



Here's the first episode of the Raptors Rundown podcast. It's something I want to be able to do weekly at the least. In this episode, I and fellow guest/fan Rose Arcana discuss topics that include the recent four game West Coast trip, Bosh venting to the media, 3rd quarter meltdowns, and more.

If you want to help me co-host a future episode, feel free to send me a message via email which you can find on this very blog you're on. A show made by the fans, but more importantly, made for the fans.

Thanks again to Rose Arcana. You can add her on Twitter here:

Rose's Twitter

NOTE: I realize the sound quality could have been better, but bare with us here, first episode was a learning experience, and I'll look to keep getting better every episode. Thanks!



Saturday, March 13, 2010

Raptors @ Warriors [Fantasy Basketball At Its Finest]


For those who are playing fantasy basketball this year, a good portion of your fantasy leagues are playing out its final season week. With Saturday and Sunday being the last two days before playoffs, it's do or die for some of us struggling to grab the seed we're aiming for.

Thankfully - the Raptors and Warriors are playing each other tonight.

Need points? There's sure to be plenty of that.

Assists? Jack, Jose, Turkoglu, Curry, Ellis, Watson will surely provide the load.

Rebounds? Tons of shots will be put up, and more than a fair share will hit rim.

Steals? Well let's just say both the Raptors and Warriors have been TO prone lately.

If all plays out like it's expected to, basketball fans will be treated to some fantasy basketball gems in the form of stat lines. Both the Raptors and Warriors are in top 5 of the NBA in points scored and points given up per game. The two teams are also in the top 10 in regards to field goal percentage and and opponents' field goal percentage.

To say this game will be a defensive showcasing would be an understatement; so on that note - you're going to need to look elsewhere if you're trailing in the "blocks" category.

What I CAN guarantee however is the abundance of 3pt shots taken, and most likely 3pt shots made. After all - we are pitting a team that currently has the longest streak of games with at least one 3-pointer made; against a team who just happens to have the son of a 3-point specialist Raptors fans may be familiar with:



Prediction?

Raptors 114 - 104 Warriors

It's bound to be a high scoring game. Being this late into the season, teams aren't going to significantly deviate from what the stats say they are. If the Raptors end up finding a way to somewhat fix their broken defense, it'll be back in Toronto where they'll be able to work on their schemes in the comfort of their own practice court. Still, I think the Raps come away with this. The sense of urgency will be there, and this is a must win before they take on a tough Portland team tomorrow.

Catch the game tonight at 10:30 pm EST on TSN.

Friday, March 12, 2010

With A Side Of Red - Mar.12/10




Do Raptors fans remember this guy? If not, here's a better picture of him in all his glory...



Yup. Same dude. Same guy that beat Jose for a 50-50 loose ball. Well, it seems as though he has succumbed to the wrath of Raptors fans. Recently, Lapo Elkann released an apology to Raptors fans, and even more specifically, to Italian Raptors fans.

"“Having two Italians on the team and being Italian, I wished for them to win,” Elkann told ESPN, referring to Raptors’ duo Marco Belinelli and Andrea Bargnani."

Check out the rest of the article here:

Juventus Patron Lapo Elkann Apologetic Over LA Lakers Mishap

Next up to the plate, DeMar DeRozan. Why? Because we're touring Cali - duh. Raptors fans will be the first to admit - our rookie has struggled recently. But who can honestly blame him? He's only 20 years old and as raw as they get. Patience is the key here. But if we stick with this guy, it'll turn out to be well worth the wait.

Forgetting the fact that we're 0-2 after games against LA and Sacramento, DeRozan is starting to show glimpses of what he did so well earlier in the season. Hopefully, the prolonged stay in California will rejuvenate him for the rest of the year.

Here's one of the better mixes I've seen of DeMar DeRozan as a Toronto Raptor.



Lastly, I want give out a BIG THANK YOU to everyone who has helped me reach the finals of the Raptors Pros Vs. Joes Debate Tournament hosted by Whotheman.com

Without my family members, friends, and readers of the blog, I wouldn't have been able to get to this point in the contest. Now I get to take on the winning Pro in "Phdsteve" of RaptorsRepublic.

He's been an absolute juggernaut in this competition. Even James Borbath of DinoNation couldn't get by him (and he's the author of - hands down - the most popular Raptors blog). So though it's pretty much a guarantee that I'll end up losing this last debate, I still can't wait to get it going just for the lone fact that it'll be a great experience.

Feel free to check out some of the highlights from the tournament!

Raptors Debate Tournament Highlights

And there you guys have it. Before I leave, I also wanted to let everyone know that a future audio and video podcast is in the works. The show will basically go into mainly Raptors related topics, as well as a few NBA tidbits. With that said, I'm also looking for a co-host. Whether you have your own Raptors blog, or simply a hardcore fan of the team, hit me up via email if interested!

Whatever you happen to be doing Raptors fans, I hope you enjoyed it With A Side of Red!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

One Step Forward; Two Steps Back



Make no mistake about it, we let that one get away. And no offense to Sacramento, but that was a game we should have won. Unfortunately, in the world of sports, you don't win games you should win, you win games you do win. And on a Wednesday night in Sacramento, the Toronto Raptors didn't even come close to getting to that W.

This was a tough one to swallow. Especially after the game against the Lakers. You show all that courage, heart, and determination one night, only to follow it up with disgusting performance the next night? That's unacceptable - and downright anti-climatic. It was like watching Jerry Stackhouse dunk after Vince in the dunk-off all over again.

And talk about embarrassing...

This was a Kings team that had only won 21 games before their dismantling of Toronto. And this was a Raptors squad that was fighting for their playoff lives, and coming off a very gritty performance against the defending champions. How did this happen?

My shot in the dark guess? Overconfidence.

Yes, I'm still talking about the same Toronto Raptors team who's reeling right now. But perhaps their showing against L.A. caused them to maybe overlook Sacramento as an easy win. Case in point - When a fan asked Bosh if he was coming to Sacramento next year, CB4 replied with a resounding "Hell No!" Later that game, Jack went on to tell the fan "Ain't nobody coming here...nobody even knows it's in California."

Clearly, our Raptors squad felt like they were above Sacramento; you don't say stuff like that if you weren't confident about it. But in all honesty, we're in no position to be feeling that way. No - I'm not echoing Lamar Odom's words, because I have no problem with the Raptors showing confidence. In fact, every night, I think the Raptors should play like they know they can hang with every single team. What I don't think we can do right now is something that only elite teams do, and that's act like they're above anybody. We can't take anyone lightly nor can we feel like there's absolutely no way we can lose, especially with our defense regressing again. The Raptors can play on anyone's level if they don't ease up on the pedal, and when they realize that, this team will easily get back their 5th seed.

But at least for one night, that Sacramento Kings fan was the one that felt good after watching the game - and he didn't even have to switch time zones.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

This Post Was Decided Before I Even Wrote It...



Like in many forms of entertainment - movies, professional wrestling, plays - the outcome is already decided before it even begins. Without being bluntly direct, let's just say that last night, Toronto Raptors fans were left scratching their heads. In a unison stream of thought, they wondered whether or not they were watching a competition, or a scripted reality show...

Many basketball experts, analysts, and those who follow the team close, openly admitted that last night's Raptors-Lakers game had suspect officiating. Time after time again, the Lakers were gift wrapped opportunities to win this game. Twitter, facebook, and basketball forums throughout the world ended up discussing how the Raptors got punked on national TV.

The Raptors ended up losing on a very difficult (yet classic) Kobe fadeaway with time ticking down. Yet in my opinion, it shouldn't have even come down to that. What I'll forever remember about this game were all the questionable calls - or no calls. Here's some that instantly come to mind:

- Chris Bosh's foul on Kobe as he attempted a lay-up
- Amir Johnson's weak offensive foul/scuffle
- Antoine Wright being called for a foul for putting his hands straight up
- Fan interference with Jose Calderon


Sigh.

In other news from that game (which I'll be expecting a YouTube mix of eventually), Lamar Odom came out with a gem of a quote:

"They ain't done s***. You know what I mean? As a team, as individuals."

Seriously Lamar? What have you done individually? Thank God you've got Kobe to fall back on. Without him, you'd be messing up all over the place. Oh wait -



Lastly, here's a quote from Chris Bosh regarding last night's game and Turk's overall play:

"I think we want to see that," Bosh said. "I think he's still trying to figure out how he can do that. We just have to let him know that he has the opportunity and the chance to be aggressive. He's can do that. He's going to have the ball in his hands a lot. Anytime he wants to make a play, the opportunity is going to be there."

You hear that Turk? It's there. The "Ball" is there. Now go and make the play. We need you bud. We need you right now.

Ready to see if Turk steps up to the plate? Well, tonight will be your chance when the Raptors take on the Kings tonight on TheScore @ 10pm EST.


NOTE: I appreciate the increase of support and readers the GamePointBlog has been getting as of late. Thanks to everyone who's linked back here, means a lot. Keep a look out for a future podcast/video blog we have in store for the future!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Raptors @ Lakers [Big Stage, Big Names, Big Game]



Wow, these lights are bright. As if we needed anymore pressure...

Tonight, the Toronto Raptors find themselves in the City of Angels, where they will be guests to Kobe Bryant and his Lakers. Most people are expecting a loss. And who can blame them? After all, the Raptors currently find themselves playing some very uninspiring basketball. On top of that, Chris Bosh is still shaking off some of that rust. Combined the the fact that the Lakers will be hungry after their 3rd straight loss, and it doesn't look good right now.

HOWEVER - do any of you remember this?



Beautiful game. And probably still my favorite yet this season. Sure, the win was at home. The crowd and atmosphere probably helped a lot as well. But when it comes down to it, the Raptors still won, and the Lakers still lost.

With that said, I'm gonna predict that the Raptors either win tonight or at least go down fighting. I'm sure most Raptors fans are aware of the fact that we struggle against athletic and fast teams (especially when they use undersized bigs).

Think of:

ATL, Philly, OKC

These teams kills us by being more athletic and running it down our throats. Think about it. Hasn't it ever crossed your mind how odd it is that we are able to beat teams like Dallas, Cleveland, and LA? Heck, we even took Cleveland to overtime without Chris Bosh. We're a better half court team than we are at running and gunning.

So remember, even while some of your friends have checked out or jumped off the Raptors bandwagon, don't be surprised if you end up watching a competitive Raptors team out in LA tonight. Besides, that's what this city appreciates most. You don't have to win every game, but you do have to try and show you care. Tonight, the Raptors do just that.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Red And Black Retract?



I want to you know?

I want to smash that protective glass. I want to put my hand over it, feel the shinny glossy red exterior and just slam it down with all the world's effort. But is it panic time just yet?

Maybe.

As of today, here's what the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff race looks like:

5. Milwaukee: 33-29
6. Toronto: 32-29
7. Miami: 32-31
8. Chicago: 31-31
9. Charlotte: 30-31

I don't know about you guys, but that's an awfully close race. Milwaukee, Miami, and Charlotte are all on winning streaks, while Toronto and Chicago are the teams that are struggling. This is a perfect example of how fast things can change in the NBA. It was only a little while ago when Toronto and Chicago seemed destined to take the 5th and 6th seeds, while the rest struggled for the last two spots.

Unfortunately, the tables have turned and the Raptors now embark on a 4 game West Coast trip. What horrible timing...we never do well with these road trips out west. For those that don't remember, here's what our last trip looked like:

Clippers W 104-89
Suns L 100-101
Nuggets L 112-130
Jazz L 94-101

Can we afford going something similar to 1-3 during the next 4 games that consist of bouts with the Lakers, Kings, Warriors and Blazers? Considering where we are in the grand scheme of things, I don't think so. Being realistic, I feel like splitting this trip will be a success. I think it plays out like this:

Lakers - L (going to be tough to sweep the Lakers, it's in LA, they remember the loss we gave them earlier, and they're hungry to get back on track)
Kings - W (we're a better team, no way we should lose this, if the Raps come out with a sense of urgency, this should be an easy win)
Warriors - W (the most unpredictable game out of the 4, raps need to come out focused, our defense has regressed back to its poor ways, and all it will take to lose is a bad shooting night; we play hard on d, and we win)
Blazers - L (2nd game of a back to back, I think the Raps are looking forward to going home, and I just can't see them edging this one out)

Obviously I'd love to see us go 3-1 or even win all 4 games. But with Bosh still shaking off some rust, and the team not being able to practice at full health, I think going 2-2 would be more than just fine.

And for more on this 4 game stretch, let's bring in my favorite duo Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong with another edition of "Life on the 2nd Bus", as well as a nice little preview of the Lakers game from Beverley Hills.



Friday, March 5, 2010

The Raptors' Young Guns: Where Weems Come True



A couple days ago, I wrote a piece that dissected where exactly Bosh's 16 shot attempts a game were going during his latest injury. A link to the article can be found here: Shot Distribution

Totally expecting Bosh to make his comeback tonight, I thought we could finally do away with those numbers. But for at least one more night (crossing fingers - GET WELL SOON CB4), I think we can bring them back in. However this time, let's look exclusively at the Raptors' Young Guns. Here are the trio's shot attempts during the last 6 games without Bosh, and their shot attempts in tonight's win against those Knicks.

DeRozan
4.8 shots WO/Bosh
8 shots (10 pts on 63%)
Diff: +3.2

Weems
5.4 shots WO/Bosh
16 shots (20 pts on 56%)
Diff: +10.6

Johnson
4.5 shots WO/Bosh
13 shots (14 pts on 54%)
Diff: +8.5

To put it simply: That is A LOT of shots.

We're talking about nearly 22 more shots than usual for the Young Guns during this stretch without Chris Bosh, and a total of 37 shots tonight between the three of them. That's a huge portion of the offense going through three of the youngest players on the squad.

And you know what? I liked what I saw.

Obviously, you don't want this to become a trend (even for the sole fact that they're all still pretty raw as players). But heck, it was fun to watch at least for one night. Each and every one of them brought something nice to the table. Amir constantly cleaning the glass and working down low. DeMar's consistent attack of the rim and his fluid midair body control. Sonny's much improved jump shot and jaw dropping athleticism.

And what perfect timing too. On a night that involved some of the more experienced players needing medical attention (Bosh, Turk, Bargnani), it really was the perfect moment to unleash the young guns.

With A Side Of Red - Mar.5/10 [Lest We Forget - Ball]

What's going on fellow blogger readers. My apologies for not being able to put up a post yesterday. Responsibilities outside of the Raptors began to pile up, and I didn't want to give it half the effort. But we're back, and rightfully so, because so are the Toronto Raptors. I thought I'd do something a little different today, so let's get it poppin'. Here's everything that matters to you in the world of the Raptors in the latest edition of "With A Side Of Red".



[In my best Dwight Schrute voice] Question...That feeling you get when you look at this picture, what is that odd and unfamiliar sensation...?

Answer: Two things. That's is the feeling of beating the New York Knicks. And it is also the feeling of having your 5-time All-Star Chris Bosh in the lineup.

Tonight, your very own Toronto Raptors take on those Knickerbockers in what will be the most retro an NBA game can get. Sporting those clean looking Huskies jerseys, the game will be honoring the first ever NBA game played, which just happened to be between these two squads. Got myself a ticket:



Yes, the rivalry between the Raps and the Knicks can be dated all the way back to prehistoric times. But like most Raptors fans, you know this particular rivalry was truly born in the 2001 NBA playoffs. It was during this year when the Raptors clashed with Knicks for a 2nd straight time in the post-season, only to go on to win their first and only playoff series. With the help of YouTube, let's relive the final quarter that will forever be etched in the hearts of Raptors fans all over the world:







Ah. Beautiful. Brings a tear to my eye.

Alright, so we went back in time to grab an ad for the first ever game between the two teams. We adjusted the set year in our DeLorean DMC-12 and checked out our only playoff series win. But what about now? What has come of the Raptors/Knicks rivalry? Simple. This.



Oh...yeah...and by the way. New York, we thank you for this. Madison Square Garden: Where legends are born.



Whatever you happen to be doing Raptors fans, I hope you enjoyed it With A Side Of Red!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Number Crunching: Where Exactly Did Bosh's Shots Go?




Whenever you rely so much on a single player like how the Raptors rely on Chris Bosh, it's going to be tough to win games. Up to this point in the season, Bosh is averaging 25 pts, 11 reb, 16 shots per game, and 9 free throw attempts. Being pretty gaudy numbers, the Raptors coaching staff have had their hands full trying to make up for their captain's lost stats.

After 6 games without Bosh and going a record of 2-4, to say it's been tough would be an understatement. Had it not been for Jack's heroics in the game against Washington, we could have gone 1-5.

Sure, whatever the coaching staff has decided to go with, it hasn't been a success. But where exactly did Bosh's shots go? Here's a breakdown of 10 Raptors players and their shot averages before Bosh went down, and the amount they're averaging exclusively during this 6 game stretch. (Note: I took into account injuries and games played. Ex: Turk has played 54 games, Calderon has played 45 games, Rasho with 34, etc.)

Bargnani
14.3 shots W/Bosh
13.5 shots WO/Bosh
Diff: -0.8

Turkoglu
9.8 shots W/Bosh
10.5 shots WO/Bosh
Diff: +0.7

Jack
7.6 shots W/Bosh
10.1 shots WO/Bosh
Diff: +2.5

DeRozan
6.7 shots W/Bosh
4.8 shots WO/Bosh
Diff: -1.9

Calderon
8.7 shots W/Bosh
8.7 shots WO/Bosh
Diff: 0

Wright
5.0 shots W/Bosh
7.8 shots WO/Bosh
Diff: +2.8

Weems
5.5 shots W/Bosh
5.4 shots WO/Bosh
Diff: -0.1

Johnson
3.4 shots W/Bosh
4.5 shots WO/Bosh
Diff: +1.1

Evans
2.0 shots W/Bosh
4.6 shots WO/Bosh
Diff: +2.6

Nesterovic
3.4 shots W/Bosh
6.5 shots WO/Bosh
Diff: +3.1

Reading this after having watched each of the last 6 games, you can conclude a few things here right off the bat:

1) The big men of the rotation have all benefited from the absence of Bosh; all except for one individual.
2) That individual - being Bargnani - was the one person most Raps fans had hoped would get more touches. The blame is on both the coaching staff and on Andrea here.
3)As expected, both Turk and Jack have stepped up as leaders, and increased shot attempts come with the role.
4) Without Bosh, the Raptors seem more reluctant to have DeRozan involved in the offensive attack. That, or DeRozan is being timid about things. He also has been in a slump.
5) Wright has gotten more shots, but is forcing a lot of them up.
6) Reggie Evans averaged 2.3 shot per game last season, doubling that is troubling for the Raps.

And there you guys have it. Hopefully CB4 returns for this Friday against the Knicks. That is a MUST WIN in my eyes. It was reported earlier today that Bosh practiced. I'm really looking forward to what this team can do at full strength and with a few games under their belt. Something always seems to get in our way just before we can finally get it rolling while healthy.

On that note, I just wanted to thank everybody who has voted for me in the Raptors Pros. Vs. Joes Debate Tournament at Whotheman.com I'm in the final round of the Joes bracket and would really appreciate the continued support. It would be really fun to possibly talk ball with phdsteve of RaptorsRepublic in the finals. Help me reach that goal by voting here: Should The Raptors Have Made A Move Before The Deadline?


Till next time. Peace!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Boiling Point



Make that 4 in a row in the "L" column. This mini 2 game road trip out West is something this team is better off sweeping under the rug. Nothing good came out of it. Both games turned into blowouts and only managed to further deflate the confidence we built up before the All-Star break.

You could see it in the Raptors' faces, a boiling point had been reached - again. In many ways, these last two games against Oklahoma City and Houston reminded me of what happened the first time we ran into Atlanta. The entire team was sporting a defeated type of demeanor on the court. They were lazy on defense, they weren't talking, and at times looked like they didn't care. Only until Antoine Wright let his emotions get the best of him, did Toronto finally start to show a little bit of life. But by then, it was much too late.

Yes, this team needs Chris Bosh back, and in a hurry. But the root of the problem is hidden in their defense. It has already regressed back to the horrific form we were accustomed to early in the season. During this 4 game losing streak, the Raptors are giving up a whopping 116 points per game. Without your all-star in the lineup, the only way you can win games is by settling down on defense, and the Raptors have not come even close to doing that.

Before I sign off for the day, let's break down one of the defensive sequences from last night's lost to the Rockets:


Here, the Rockets prepare to execute a pick and roll on the weak side of the floor. Houston uses Scola as the screener and Brooks as the ball handler.



Scola sets the screen and Brooks will make a read, taking whatever the defense gives him. The Raptors can either have the defender (Turkoglu in this case) do two things: 1) Go over the screen and force Brooks to drive to the rim where help/resistance will be provided. 2) Go under the screen and force Brooks to pass or take the open shot.



Turk goes over the screen, thus signalling that the Raptors are committed to forcing Brooks towards the rim where he will have a difficult shot or be cut off and forced to reset/pass the ball off to a teammate.



This is where the Raps show poor execution because there is no expected resistance. DeRozan is late with the help from the strong side. While Bargnani is caught in "No Man's Land". Bargs can't decide whether or not he wants to stay on Scola or cut off Brooks; unfortunately he isn't in position to do either. The Raptors commitment to going over the initial screen means that Brooks should be forced to drive to the rim only to want to pass it off to an open teammate from where the help came from. Bargnani could have slid over to Scola and one of Jack or Rasho could have been the resistance for Brooks; thus forcing a pass to the corner or towards Martin. Or Bargnani could have tried to stop Brooks himself forcing Houston to pass to Scola. You can't stop everything in a perfectly executed pick and roll, but you at least want to control where the offense gets their shot.



Oddly, the Raptors end up having the ENTIRE team converge on Brooks. This (unnecessary) overcommitment is meant to guarantee Brooks takes a tough shot or passes out to an open teammate farther away from the basket. Unfortunately neither happens. There is little to no resistance, mainly because both Rasho and Bargnani were late (should be outside the restricted semi-circle). On top of that, Brooks ends up making the runner near the bucket; even though that's what the Raptors' scheme wanted to prevent the most.