Friday, November 27, 2009

As a Toronto Raptors fan, I deserve better

Close your eyes. Flashback to October 27th. The eve of the 2009-2010 Raptors season. So much excitement. The wait was finally over.

Now flash forward to today, one month later. Where's your excitement now?

The Raptors are losers of five straight on the road, and staring down a 7-10 record. Huh?

I knew the Raptors biggest issue would be defense, but I didn't think it'd be this embarrassing. My basketball coach always to say me "Take pride on defense. It all comes from the heart". I wish he could say that same thing to the Toronto Raptors. It's one thing to be a poor defender--but it's another thing to not give a damn. No hustle, no spacing, no energy. Just "o" defense (another term used by my coach). Before tonight's loss to the Celtics (they gave up 116 points tonight), the Raptors were giving up 111 PPG. That's just pathetic.

For as happy I am the Raptors got Hedo Turkoglu, he's not living up to his 5 yr/$53M contract. Not one bit. On Wednesday, he had 5 points, and he's only averaging around 13.5 PPG overall. I rest my case.

I've heard all the excuses: the tough schedule, the team needs to gel, yada, yada, yada. Last I checked Chris Bosh will be a free agent on July 1st. Time isn't on the Raptors side. They need to win. Immediately.

Of the Raptors ten losses, eight have been against teams who made the playoffs last year. What's that mean? It means the Raptors can't beat the better teams in the league.

The past two games (both losses), I've done something I've never done before. I turned the TV off before the final buzzer sounded because I was so frustrated with the poor effort put forth. I'm worried the poor start to the season is the beginning of the end. Are you?

I know it's only November, but I expected more. Prior to the season started, I predicted a 51-31 record. That means the Raptors will have to go 45-20 the rest of the year. Yikes.

As a die hard Raptor fan, I deserve better. We all deserve better.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Recapping the West Coast Trip

What adjectives can be used to describe the Raptors' trip out West? Disappointing? Infuriating? Sad? The Raptors had plenty of opportunity to win against the Suns and the Jazz, but came up on the losing end in 3 of their 4 games.

Chris Bosh carried the load for the Raptors on Wednesday, putting up 32 points and 17 rebounds in the loss--something that isn't unusual. Bosh has been putting up MVP type numbers all year, but doesn't get enough support. The Calderon-Jack experiment hasn't worked at all. Andrea Bargnani, for as good as he'll be one game, will go completely cold the next. And frankly, I had higher hopes for Hedo Turkoglu--yes, he's been playing good, but considering his fantastic playoff run with the Magic, I expected more.

The Raptors are now 5-7, and losers of their last 3. What scares me the most--the Raptors have seven losses. Six of those are against teams who made the playoffs last year. Granted, the Western Conference is better than the Eastern Conference, but nonetheless... For a team that should play post-April 2010, losing six out of seven to playoff teams is certainly a concern.

Just how bad was it? Well, the Raptors opponent field goal percentage was just above 50%. The killing game was Wednesday, as the Nuggets shot 62%.

During the 4 game stretch, the Raptors opponent averaged 106 points per game.

The opponent averaged 49 points in the paint, compared to the Raptors who averaged 39. On Wendesday, the Nuggets dropped 68 of their 130 points in the painted area.

Obviously, this isn't the start Bryan Colangelo, Chris Bosh and the Raptors had in mind. Maybe I'm overreacting, because there's sill a ton of basketball (70 games to be exact) left to play. But at the end of the day, keeping their franchise player, Chris Bosh, is biggest priority. If the Raptors have any chance of re-signing him, they need to win. Now.

The Raptors take on the Heat tonight at the ACC.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Raptors lose a heartbreaker...

The 5-4 Raptors faced the red hot 8-2 Phoenix Suns, as the Raptors west coast trip continued on Sunday night.

Right from the get-go, the game shifted into the Mike D'Antoni up-tempo offense. Both teams fired away, hitting jumpers and penetrating the paint for points. Hell, with 8:09 left in the 1st quarter, the score was 16-12. I felt like my eyes were shifting rapidly from one side of the TV to the other. The Raptors led most of the way (their biggest lead was 10), but for the most part, only a few possessions separated the opponents.

But just like any classic Raptors game, the Suns found a way to take the lead late in the game. With 7:41 left in the game, Steve Nash hit a dagger 3 pointer to go up 87-84.

Back and forth the teams went, exchanging leads. All while my mood was flip flopping like a middle aged woman going through her annual PMS symptoms. It was not a pretty sight.

With 38 seconds left, Steve Nash drove the lane and scored from the left side while Jose Calderon committed a killer foul. Suns up by 100-101. It was at this point that I started praying and firing away at my Twitter.

With 12 seconds left, the Raptors put the game in Hedo Turkoglu's hands, calling on him to shoot the game winner. The shot was up.....and off the back iron. Raptors lose. Suns win. I was on the ground in disbelief.

While sitting there, I just thought of two things: A--how did we even contend with these guys? B--how did we lose? I wasn't this heartbroken over a loss since Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Nets in 2007. This was one of few occasions where the Raptors gave a 100% effort for 48 minutes--but somehow still lost. It was so frustrating.

And the thing is--I have no complaints. The Raptors played amazing. I mean, to be THAT CLOSE to a beating an 8-2 team on the road is hard to do. No question, last nights game was the most exciting of the season. The fans in attendance definitely got their moneys worth. It's hard to see your team lose, but it's even harder when the effort doesn't match the result. I've had 21 hours to recuperate from the loss, but it still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Alright, well since I've vented, I guess it's time for me to get up off the floor and move on with my life.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What a night

The Raptors were at the Staples Center last night, fortunately not playing the Lakers, but rather the Clippers. Since the game was on the west coast, tip-off didn't start until 10:30 eastern time.

The Raptors came out flat as a board. The Clippers shot 75% in the first quarter and had a commanding 34-17 lead. Against the Clippers?

Then I fell asleep on the couch. Big mistake.

The Raptors began to chip away at the lead, and even cut the lead to single digits at half. The Clippers saw their 17 point lead drop to 9 at halftime.

From there on out, the Raptors were in the drivers seat. The game was tied at the end of 3, then then the floodgates opened. The Raptors outscored the Clippers by 15 in the 4th, thanks to a 16-0 run to end the game. Wow. What a comeback. Raptors won 104-89. The Clippers' biggest lead was 22, setting a franchise record for the largest deficit to earn a win by the Raptors.

After dropping 34 in the 1st quarter, the Clippers only managed to score 18.3 points over the next 3 quarters. The Raptors defense finally decided to wake up, and slowly began to chip away offensively from there.

Marco Belinelli played 28 minutes off the bench to provide some much needed scoring for the Raptors. He loomed large in the second quarter, where he scored his nine of his 15 points to help cut down the big lead. Belinelli also hit two crucial three-pointers in the fourth quarter, pulling Toronto to within a point at 83-84 with nine minute to play and then building a seven-point advantage at 96-89 with 3:10 remaining. Thanks again for that bench, Mr. Colangelo. It's games like these where it really pays off.

Chris Bosh had another monster game, pouring in 21 points and 14 rebounds. His streak of 7 games of having 25+ points came to an end. Jose Calderon, whose impressed me the past few games, had 18 points and 8 assists.

All in all, I loved the effort of the Raptors. While I didn't see the 80% of the game, I was certainly happy to see I got a text message at 1:00am, updating me that the Raptors won. The early holes the Raptors have dug against Chicago and LA have been discouraging, but the team's ability to respond in the past two fourth quarters has been promising.

But if the Raptors want to beat the Suns tomorrow, they'll have to play a full 48 minutes. Taking the 1st quarter off against the Suns and Nuggets won't cut it. These west coast teams are far too good. But hopefully, this big win will boost the Raptors' confidence.

I guess Friday the 13th is a bad luck day after all.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Oh boy...

A win is a win. A loss is a loss. A terrible loss ruins my night.

Although I was unable to watch the Raptors-Hornets game last Friday, I did manage to take a look at the box score. The big obvious that stuck out, besides the fact the Raptors won, was the 90 points posted by the Hornets. 90 points? Impressive. Besides the 21 & 18 by Chris Paul, the Hornets were pretty much shut down. Toronto's field goal percentage a shade under 51, while the Hornets shot 48%.

The next night, the Raptors were in Dallas to face the Mavericks. Chris Bosh's homecoming.

Again, I was unable to watch the first half, but thanks to the invention of text messaging I noticed the Raptors were down by 7 at the half way point. Then I got home. Crap.

Right off the bat, the Mavericks started to separate themselves. Chris Bosh couldn't/didn't defend/care Dirk Nowitzki, as he lit it up from downtown. The Mavericks got ridiculously easy penetration points. The Mavericks made the pick and roll look like the most dominant play in basketball. The defense in itself looked like a high school team.

And this doesn't take an expert to figure out--the Raptors lost 129-101, and the Mavericks shot 62% from the field. You read that right. 62%. That's not one quarter. That's an entire game.

Where do you start? The Raptors have played 6 games, and 2 have resulted in the counterpart scoring at least 125 points (no overtime). It appears the pre-season issue is very much a reality. Will this poor defense-good offense scheme work for 76 more games? I know we're only 6 games into the season, but nonetheless--it wouldn't matter if it was game 1, or game 55. The defense is an obvious problem.

And it doesn't get any easier. The Raptors will face the Tony Parker-less Spurs tonight at 8:30. Hopefully some adjustments have been made, but I'm expecting it to be high scoring affair. How will Chris Bosh match up with Tim Duncan? Will CB actually give a rats ass this time?

Be sure to check it out. I know I will. And I'm sure the occasional couch pillow will be thrown at the TV. Oh, the stresses of being a Raptors fan...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Jose Calderon: Cause for Concern?

Largely due to the bench, the Raptors defeated the Pistons at the ACC last night 110-99. Chris Bosh had 25 points, while Andrea Bargnani posted 22 points and 12 rebounds...that's right folks, 12 rebounds for Ill Mago.

But I'm not here to write about the victory. I'm here to write about a more serious concern, and that is the play of PG Jose Calderon. In 31 minutes of action, Calderon put up a measly 9 points and 1 assists, which didn't come until late in the game. Ouch.

Calderon's season has been off to a very slow start, particularly at the defensive end. Play after play, Calderon gets burned by PG's. I can think of a handful of times last night when Rodney Stuckey, an average PG at best, blew by Jose Calderon for an easy lay in. Calderon's defense was a problem last year and the same concern is still prevalent.

On the other hand, Calderon's backup Jarrett Jack, had a terrific game. In 31 minutes (same as Calderon), Jack had 9 points, 6 assists, and actually played defense, which is something the Raptors aren't accustomed too.

But when asked if he was happy with his play, Calderon didn't hesitate.

"No. I could get better in what happens on the floor and (my) offence and defence have got to be much better,”

“It's only four games into the season right now,” he said. “I try to give my best but when we are winning it (his stat totals) doesn't matter. I have to practice to play my best basketball (but) we have guys who are playing really good so it's great.”

“A lot of that has maybe been due to the rust and the fact that this is the first time in his career he had that much time away from professional basketball,” said Raptors coach Jay Triano.

Excuses, excuses, excuses, right coach? I've heard it a million times--battered body, hasn't played in a while, he needs time, yada, yada, yada. I'm sick of it--I want results. And time isn't something the Raptors have on their side right now. Last I checked, Chris Bosh will be a free agent in 7 months, and if the Raptors have any shot of keeping him, they need to win. Now.

Last year, I made a bold prediction, stating I thought Jose Calderon would be a top PG in the East this season. Given the slow start, this may not be possible.

Granted, we are only 4 games into the year, and there's 78 more to go, but it's all about first impressions. And as of right now, I'm not too impressed with Jose Calderon.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pistons at Raptors

The short handed Pistons will be heading north of the border tonight to face the Raptors at 7:00. With Richard Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince both sidelined, Ben Gordon scored 23 points while Rodney Stuckey and reserve Will Bynum each added 20 as Detroit, now 2-2, avoided a third straight loss with an 85-80 home win over Orlando on Tuesday. The Pistons will be looking for back-to-back wins and 5 straight victories over the Toronto Raptors.

The Raptors will be looking to end their 2 game losing streak, as they fell to Orlando on Sunday 125-116. Despite a monster game from Chris Bosh, the Raptors let the Magic score 51 points from 3 point land and allowed JJ Reddick to drop 27 points.

What To Watch For:

Although it's only 3 games, the Raptors defense looks to be a major concern. Luckily, the offensive game (led by Chris Bosh who is averaging 31 PPG) is allowing the team to stay in contention. But at the end of the day, it's all about defense.

Containing the "no names": Anyone else noticed that "not so good" players always have big games against the Raptors? JJ Reddick dropped 27 points on the Raptors' defense the other day, and Will Bynum will be coming off a big game. How will he perform tonight?

Stuckey vs. Calderon: Rodney Stuckey has always been looked at as an average PG. Given Calderon's poor ability to defend, will he get exposed yet again tonight? Which PG will have the better night?

Be sure to watch the Raptors at 7:00 on TSN2. Hopefully, the Raptors can get back to .500 tonight.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Week 1 Thoughts

NBA basketball is in full swing, as the Raptors have now played 3 games in the 2009-2010 season.

Let's start with Wednesday's game against Cleveland. The home opener. A new start. Everyone's excited about the season starting. Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon make their return to the ACC (which by the way, both got a huge applause). The Raptors played exceptional defense, en route to a 10 point victory. Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani had monsterous games, as CB posts 21 points and 16 boards, and Ill Mago put up 28 points. While LeBron had a triple double, the Raptors defended him well, as he was only able to score 23 points. Great start. Everything and everyone looked great. Raptors 1-0.

The Raptors then went on the road to face Memphis. Supposed to be an easy win, right? Think again. Raptor lose 115-107. Chris Bosh had another great game, posting 35 points and 12 boards. However, the Raptors couldn't contain Zach Randolph, has he scored 30 points.

Back to the ACC on Sunday, the Raptors faced the Orlando Magic. Vince Carter made his return to the Air Canada Centre with another team, but didn't play because of injury (ring a bell, Raptor fans?). Despite being without Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, and Mickael Pietrus, the Magic won 125-116. Raptors close the week 1-2, losing 2 straight. Yikes.

Now, it may just be week 1, but the pro's and con's of the Raptors have definitely been exposed. To be positive, the offense seems unstoppable. The Raptors have posted over 100 points in all three of their contests thus far. Chris Bosh is putting up superstar numbers, as he's averaging 31 PPG and a shy under 15 RPG. Rookie DeMar DeRozan seems to finding his way. He's not playing the minutes I'd hope, but I like what I've seen so far. The bench is dramatically improved from last year--Jay Triano is rotating the bench guy's in nicely.

The obvious problem is the defense, in a major way. While the defense impressed me in game #1, these past 2 games have shown me the defense needs a ton of work. Jose Calderon's poor defense was exposed big time yesterday afternoon--Jameer Nelson dropped 30 points on the Spanish point gaurd, and made him look silly with some of the moves he was making. As a team, the Raptors let the Magic score 51 points from downtown yesterday, and let JJ Reddick drop 27 points. That's gotta be close to his career high. All in all, the perimeter defense looked awful, and was the big reason why the Raptors came out on the short end of the stick in yesterday's affair. Of course, the big issue coming into the season unlimited offense and a limited defense. That issue is definitely prevalent thus far.

In fact, the PG duo of Calderon and Jarrett Jack hasn't met my expectations. Jack's numbers are very low, and for a guy who was supposed to bring immediate defense, hasn't blown me away. While I'm happy with Calderon's assist numbers, he seems to be forgetting to shoot the ball. I'll be looking at the box score and see him with 5 points and 12 assists. He needs to remember he's got a good jump shot, and actually get involved in the offense.

Calderon missed 3 free throws in the 2008-2009 season--he's missed 4 so far.

Now, I realize we're 3 games into an 82 game season, and maybe I should calm down. But at the end of the day, the defense will determine the Raptors fate.