Not a bad first day of playoffs, was it? Some really good games, some unexpected results, sort of sets us up for a good opening round.
Speaking of, we should probably give this in-game blog thing a shot tonight to see if, or how, it works, don’t you think?
And since I’m in some 5-km walk for MS out here in Mississauga this morning (and, trust me, walking that far carrying a defibrillator just in case is no easy chore), I figure I’m going to need a major afternoon nap. That puts the 8 p.m. Miami-Atlanta opener on The Score as our guinea pig game, right?
So, I’ll turn the machine on around 7:30, I guess (which means I have to wrest away control of the clicker) and we’ll see how things work out.
Until then, read to your heart’s content:
Q: I have a whole bunch of questions that never made the chat, in lieu of filling this form out a bunch of times, I'm jamming them all in one, do with as you please. Please answer this once and for all. Are the teams reseeded or not? You said they are not in your chat this week, though I'm positive I heard they are on one of the BS reports this week. If Shawn Marion is Toronto's free agent, can't they sign him to whatever they want and it not count against the cap, or something like that? Have you heard anything about what Kobe Bryant is going to do in the off-season? I can't imagine him leaving L.A. in a million years, but is there any chance he plays for a team other the Lakers? How much did it hurt to give Ron Artest a compliment in today's post?
Shawn L, Bowmanville
A: Once and for all? I’ve answered about 10 different times and the answer is always the same: They DO NOT re-seed. Ever. The 1-8 winner plays the 4-5 winner and the 2-7 winner plays the 3-6 winner. It’s been that way forever.
Yes, if the Raptors are over the cap and re-sign Marion, that salary does not count towards the cap; it does, however, count towards the tax threshold and, really, that’s all that matters.
I have no idea what Kobe is going to do in the off-season but I cannot envision him ever leaving the Lakers.
And Artest has a great year, for the first time in his entire career he did not cause a huge disruption. The fact he’s a free agent this summer probably didn’t have anything to do with it, right?
Q: Hi Doug, just wanted to say thanks for another great season of your blog. Not to mention the in game blogs because of the whole TSN2 debacle. Two questions: 1. Will you continue your blog during the offseason? At least twice a week to get us basketball heads something to read while we wait for opening night? 2. With the 3pt streak approaching 860, could we be bypassed by Dallas (2nd to us in 3pt streak) if they go far in the playoffs or is the record only for regular season games?
Anthony R, Mississauga
A: The plan, right now, is to go Monday-Friday with the regular morning blog and to do a mailbag on Sundays. That’s how we’ll get through the playoffs, the draft and free agency. As for August and September? I think it might get sort of quiet around here, there’s no Olympics to provide good fodder.
The three-point streak? It’s only for the regular season so no worries about Dallas getting past them.
Q: Bob Ryan on PTI yesterday suggested that the Cavs MIGHT be sitting their best players, despite a chance at the best home record in history, because they'd like to see Boston take Chicago in the first round instead of Philly. I'm wondering if the bulls might have felt the same way: wanting Boston instead of the Magic. Is this match-up better for them? AND, do you think this idea played into the level of effort they put into Wednesday's game?
Paul C, Grassy Narrows
A: I love Bob and consider him not only a friend but one of the very best basketball writers writing basketball today but that’s conspiracy theory run amok. How could Cleveland know Toronto would whack Chicago? Why did Cleveland look so happy on that game-tying shot? So, no, I think Cleveland did what was best for Cleveland and they’re so confident, they don’t care who plays who in the other series.
And it was actually a chance to tie the best home record of all time, not set it.
Man, this is almost as long as a mail bag. But it’s chock full of wisdom and wild predictions and some stuff you might not have thought of. Or maybe not.
Anyway, it’s here and maybe it gives you something to think about while doing the Saturday chores.
We’ll be back tomorrow with a relatively abbreviated mailbag (there aren’t a lot of queries in there) and I’m still looking for input (reach me here, there or wherever you can) about an in-game blog on Sunday night.
Good reading, folks:
No. 1 Cleveland vs. No. 8 Detroit
Game 1: Saturday, 3 p.m., ABC
Game 2: Tuesday, 8 p.m., The Score
Game 3: Friday, 7 p.m., RaptorsTV
Game 4: Sunday, April 26, 3 p.m., ABC
What can the Pistons do with LeBron?
Nothing except sit back and marvel.
|They call him King James and there's every reason to think he'll be wearing a crown when these playoffs are over.|
Stuff about the series
Everyone wants to make this out to be some big renewal of the rivalry that began in the conference finals a couple of seasons ago. Everyone chill. These are not your father’s Detroit Pistons and these are not your mother’s Cleveland Cavaliers.
What the Cavs are seems to be a team on a mission; they defend as well as they always have and Mo Williams gives them a huge offensive edge. He can take some of the heat off that James fellow.
The Pistons? Well, they’re talking tough, having been through the playoffs wars so often but talk, as we all know, is cheap. They’re older in the front court, younger in the backcourt and there just seems to be some disconnect between them and their coach.
Oh, and they don’t have a single, solitary soul who can guard James.
What won’t happen:
Allen Iverson won’t come off the bench to return the Pistons to glorious victory.
What will happen
The Cavs begin an inexorable march to their second East title in three years by winning their opening series in four games.
No. 2 Boston vs. No. 7 Chicago
Game 1: Saturday, 12:30 p.m., The Score
Game 2: Monday, 7 p.m., RaptorsTV
Game 3: Thursday, 8 p.m., The Score
Game 4: Sunday, April 26, 1 p.m. ABC
How much will the Celtics miss KG?
A whole lot, when they go up against a good team.
Stuff about the series:
Can you imagine the horror in Boston when it they found out Garnett’s done, most likely for the entire playoffs? Who’s going to smack the floor and yelp? Who’s going to scream and yell and, well, and act like a teenager? Who’s going to defend?
That last query is the most important because whatever Garnett did, he also played centre back on the defensive end and while Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are good player, none are known as stoppers at the other end. Sure, there’s the whole “let’s win one of the Gipper” kind of thing and that might be enough to carry the C’s through a round but when they come to play good teams? Not so much.
The Bulls? Well, the Bulls should be having a chance in a series against Orlando rather than ready to be routed by Boston. They are offensively challenged – not sure they called a single play against the Raptors and if they did, it didn’t work – and they don’t defend particularly well. They look entirely like a happy-to-be-there group that will go quietly into that night. Over and under on Joakim Noah foul-outs against Kendrick Perkins? Two and half in a six-game series.
What won’t happen:
Ex-Raptor Linton Johnson III will not make a big difference.
What will happen:
Boston’s experience will eventually shine through but it’ll take a lot more effort than they had hoped. Celtics win in six.
No. 3 Orlando vs. No. 6 Philadelphia
Game 1: Sunday, 5:30 p.m., RaptorsTV
Game 2: Wednesday, 7 p.m., TSN2
Game 3: Friday, 8 p.m., TSN2
Game 4: Sunday, April 26, TBD
Can Howard get 20-20 a night?
No reason to think he can’t.
Stuff about the series:
You’d think the most important person heading into the playoffs for the Magic would be Dwight Howard? Wrong, Superman-breath. (Kids, ask your grandparents about Johnny Carson). If the trainers are working, I’m sure, diligently trying to get Rashard Lewis (knee) and Hedo Turkoglu (ankle) back to something close to 100 per cent health. If they don’t, this series may end up being competitive after all. Oh, and Howard should dominate whatever skinny big man the Sixers send at him.
Philadelphia’s got some woes, too. Thaddeus Young isn’t 100 per cent. Oh, and they can’t shoot the ball to save their souls. Oh, and Andre Iguodala, while a great finisher in the open court, turns the ball over like it’s radioactive. Once upon a time, the Sixers were one of the up and coming young teams in the East. Now? First-round fodder.
What won’t happen
Stan Van Gundy will not show up in formal attire.
What will happen:
This could be a delightful series, I just wish that Turkoglu, Lewis and Thaddeus Young were 100 per cent healthy. Howard’s just too tough, Magic in seven.
No. 4 Atlanta vs. No. 5 Miami
Game 1: Sunday, 8 p.m., The Score
Game 2: Wednesday, 8 p.m., The Score
Game 3: Saturday, April 25, 6:30, TBD
Game 4: Monday, April 27, TBD
Can Joe Johnson negate Dwyane Wade?
No, but he might not have to.
|Can one man, even one very good man, carry his team to a series win?|
Stuff about the series:
Okay, let’s get this straight. Miami did the Jermaine O’Neal in large part so they could use him in the low post – offensively and defensively – against the likes of Dwight Howard, Kendrick Perkins and Zydrunas Ilguaskas. Guess they never figured on Zaza Pachulia, did they? Anyway, the Heat really is only as good as Dwyane Wade makes them and while he’s brilliant, his supporting cast isn’t. And watch the way the Hawks defend. They switch an awful lot, which will present different looks to Wade and force other Miami players to beat them. Yeah, right.
Now, it’s not like Miami’s playing Cleveland or Boston or even Orlando. The Hawks, while athletic and young, were a surprise at 47 wins (which says more about the East than it does about them) and this could end up being an entertaining series. I wonder how much Atlanta learned in its seven-game series with Boston last year. I think it’s enough. You know who’s gonna be the big guy, I think? Mike Bibby. Playoff-hardened, he’s the difference-maker.
What won’t happen:
Jamario Moon will not turn into playoff-like Reggie Miller from beyond the arc.
What will happen:
At some crucial point of some significant game, Dwyane Wade’s going to look at his teammates and say: Who are these guys? And the Hawks will win in six.
No. 1 Lakers vs. No. 8 Utah
Game 1: Sunday, 1 p.m., ABC
Game 2: Tuesday, 10:30 p.m., TSN
Game 3: Thursday, 10:30 p.m., TSN
Game 4: Saturday, 9 p.m., TBD
Is this the biggest mismatch in the West?
Oh yeah, without a doubt. <
|Just what the Jazz need, Kobe Bryant on a mission to win a title after losing last year.|
Stuff about the series:
Let’s get this straight. Lakers dominated the regular season, they’ve got a hungry and motivated Kobe Bryant. They’ve got a relatively healthy Andrew Bynum. They’ve got Lamar Odom, who needs to prove he can get megabucks on the open market this summer. They’ve got Pau Gasol, who is the best No. 2 option perhaps in the league and they’ve got the calm leadership of Derek Fisher.
Let’s get this straight, too: The Jazz are one of the worst road teams left in the post-season and they have no one big enough and strong enough to have a chance guarding Bryant. They’ve got Carlos Boozer still coming back from injury and their bench is suspect once you get past Paul Millsap. They’ve won three of their last seven and went from division contention to eighth overall.
Let’s get this straight: This one has rout written all over it.
What won’t happen:
John Stockton and Karl Malone won’t arrive to bail out the Jazz.
What will happen:
The Lakers, knowing how long and grueling the playoffs are, won’t take their foot off the pedal and will win in five. And that’s being charitable because I love Jerry Sloan.
No. 2 Denver vs. No. 7 New Orleans
Game 1: Sunday, 10:30 p.m. RaptorsTV
Game 2: Wednesday, 10:30 p.m., The Score
Game 3: Saturday, 1 p.m., TBD
Game 4: Monday, April 27, TBD
Will Allen Iverson be paying attention to his old team?
Probably, it’s not like he’s got other stuff to do.
Stuff about the series:
You don’t think Chauncey Billups is a valuable player? Please, take a look at where the Nuggets and where the Pistons are and you’ve got to admit the veteran point guard has everything to do with it. He’s taken a rather, um, excitable Nuggets roster (Carmelo Anthony refusing to come out of a game? Come on!) and somehow turned them into what some think is a legitimate challenger for the Lakers? Trust me, it wasn’t because of Chris Andersen’s veteran leadership.
So, the word floating around the league is that there’s sense of dissatisfaction with Byron Scott and that he maybe needs to win a series to be assured of coming back. Not sure how true that is – they are whispers more than yelps – but that does add something to the Hornets. It’d make it far easier if Tyson Chandler and Peja Stojakovic were 100 per cent healthy but they’re not. Chris Paul, however, is. And that should be enough.
What won’t happen
Mo Pete won’t make some dramatic return from purgatory to rescue the Hornets.
What will happen
Well, this is little more than a hunch but I think the Hornets can steal Game 7 on the road from the tight-collared Noogies.
No. 3 San Antonio vs. No. 6 Dallas
Game 1: Saturday, 8 p.m., The Score
Game 2: Monday, 9:30 p.m., RaptorsTV
Game 3: Thursday, 8:30 p.m., RaptorsTV
Game 4: Saturday, 4 p.m., TBD
How can Manu Ginobili flop when he’s not even in uniform?
Maybe he taught The Red Rocket to fill that role.
Stuff on the series
So, here’s San Antonio all season: “Just wait until we’re healthy in April and May, that’s all we’re waiting for.” So, here’s San Antonio today: “How’s Timmy’s knee? Manu’s out for the year, right?” And with those injuries perhaps goes their chances at that every-other-year-title string they’ve got going? Pshaw. Not entirely sure how they’ll fare in the next season but Tony Parker’s going to run circles around Jason Kidd – like he always does – and Duncan at 70 per cent is too good for anyone Dallas has.
Speaking of the Mavericks, how in the world did they get to sixth? Wasn’t it two weeks ago people were wondering if they could hold off Phoenix for eighth? Well, as a matter of fact yes, and they got some strong play from Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry down the stretch, and something of an easy schedule, and then they got the one matchup they really didn’t want. Yes, Nowitzki can go off against San Antonio but he doesn’t defend well enough and the Mavs don’t defend the perimeter particularly well, which makes old friends Roger Mason and Matt Bonner difference-makers.
What won’t happen
Mark Cuban will hold his tongue and not say or do something, um, stupid.
What will happen
Lots of people see this as a close one. I seem to be not lots of people because I can see the Spurs winning in five.
No. 4 Portland vs. No. 5 Houston
Game 1: Saturday, 10:30 p.m., The Score
Game 2: Tuesday, 10 p.m., RaptorsTV
Game 3: Friday, 9:30 p.m., RaptorsTV
Game 4: Sunday, 9 p.m., TBD
If the Blazers win, are they all old enough to have champagne to celebrate?
I bet the cops turn a blind eye for an hour or two.
Stuff on the series:
Really, what’s not to like about the Blazers? Resurrected franchise, Brandon Roy’s a stone-cold killer, Rudy and Sergio just have that Spanish flair and LaMarcus Alridge is not Andrea Bargnani and a whole lot of people in these parts think that’s a good thing. Toss in the fact the Rose Garden crowd might be the best in the league and, like I say, what’s not to like about the Blazers?
But the Rockets are kind of likable, too. And they’re awfully good thanks to the perimeter defence of Shane Battier and Ron Artest, who might be the best one-two wing defenders anywhere in basketball. Of course, it’s not hard to press your guy outside when you’ve got 10-foot tall Yao Ming standing back there but they still do it very well. And how cool would it be if the Rockets won a first-round series that Tracy McGrady watched from some rehab centre?
But, alas, you play 82 games to get home court and the Rockets could use it.
What won’t happen
Nary a Blazer will be arrested during the entirety of the series.
What will happen
Home court rules and the Blazers, who seem oblivious to post-season pressure, will use it to win Game 7.
There you have it. No need to watch, right? Well, there probably is because I’ve been wrong once or twice in my life.
So I think that chat thing went pretty well yesterday afternoon, no?
|STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR|
|What killed the Raptors this year? Part of it was Jose doing this too much in a suit. How do they fix it? Read on.|
Sorry we couldn’t get to every question – my guy did an excellent job going through them though. Was a bit weird for me since I didn’t have my usual access to the comments – I was a “panelist” – but almost every topic got covered.
Figure we should do another one? Maybe before the lottery? Or after?
Send along notes – you have a lot of different ways to reach me – and we’ll get it all worked out.
Far be it from me to give Bryan Colangelo any advice (oh, wait, that’s exactly what this space is for, no?) but here’s my Fave Five Ways To Fix It:
Upgrade The Wings
Okay, so there are two ways to go here.
The first is to re-sign Marion at a good number (I’d say between $5-$7 million a season on a three, maybe four-year deal), use as much of the mid-level exception as he can to acquire a two-guard.
The second is to sign-and-trade Marion for a two-guard or small forward and use some mid-level money to fill the other role.
Get Jose Some Help
I swear I said this out loud on the train coming back from Ottawa last October: They better get some trainer to go live with Jose because if he gets hurt, they’re dead.
Seems I was right and even though I expect Roko Ukic to come back better, I still think up-grading the backup point guard spot is huge.
How? Easy. Re-sign Anthony Parker to fill that role.
Depth On The Wings
Now, I love Jason Kapono as a guy. Funny, irreverent, can hit a gentle draw with a 4-iron like few Raptors ever could (actually, that’s just what I’m told, maybe he hits it off the hozzle every time). But I’m not sure this is the right, um, fit for him.
So if I’m Bryan, I find a taker out there on the market; it might mean taking back an extra year of salary but it’s probably best for everyone.
And the sooner the better so Jason doesn’t have to carry his cellphone on the course all summer.
Bring Back Delfino
I know his stature has grown disproportionately since he’s been in Russia – I swear people have such short memories, it’s hilarious – but he’s versatile, can hit a three and he can take Joey’s place because, as much as it pains me to say, I think Mr. Graham has to move on.
Cull The Bigs
There’s no way, on a 13- or 14-man roster (and finances will likely dictate that again), that the Raptors can have Kris Humphries, Nate Jawai, Patrick O’Bryant and Pops Mensah-Bonsu all on the bench. It’s simply too many bodies for too few roles. It really doesn’t matter to me who they keep but they cannot keep them all.
Now, you’ll notice I haven’t once mentioned that Bosh fellow.
It’s easy. He’s not going anywhere, he shouldn’t be going anywhere and he should remain the foundation. You can’t convince me that trading away by far the best player on the team makes any sense whatsoever.
Ask yourself this:
What’s the absolute best case scenario?
He comes back, has a monster year (and he’s been 20 and almost 10, if not 10, every season for four seasons now and he decides to stay for another long-term deal. And remember this: The last time he could have found a way to leave, his team came off a 27-win season and he signed a new contract.
Now, as yourself this:
What’s the absolute worst case scenario?
They blow again next year and he opts and leaves as a free agent.
Where’s that leave Toronto? Well, it leaves them with his entire salary to spend on what is generally considered the greatest free agent class in the history of free agent classes and if they can’t get two or three players of their own choosing with that money, I’d be shocked.
This might be the biggest piece of non-news in the history of non-news.
Chris Bosh won’t demand trade!
Seriously, of all the gobbledy-gook that came out of Thursday’s let’s-get-the-seaosn-officially-over-with media session, the fact Bosh said he’s not going to force any issue with the Raptors might have been the most yawn-inducing.
It would be so out of character for him to even contemplate something like that to think otherwise is almost delusional.
Bosh is a rather, um, laid-back guy – too laid back for some – who doesn’t ever want to rock the boat. He takes what comes, deals with it and never looks too far into the future or the past. That’s his DNA and it’s not going to change.
It’ll cause some angst around here, it already has, because he’s not going to play along with anyone wanting to discuss his future. But, as the noted philosopher Shawn Marion put it yesterday discussing another matter, “it is what it is.”
Do you think a weekend in Montreal with Shawn Marion would be any good?
“I heard Montreal is crazy up there so I’m going up there, too. You can follow me on tour.”
Boss? I’ll be back in a wee bit.
A little post-season mail thingy:
Q: Can you give us any good reasons why the NBA doesn't rearrange match ups after every round so that the best remaining team is playing the worst remaining team (in their conference), the second best playing the second worst and so on. The ways things are seems to leave a lot to chance, for example the 6th seed might be better off than the 5th seed as they won't have to play the 1st seed in the second round. Even though they have a tougher first round opponent than the 5th seed you could argue that it is worth it to not have to play the 1st seed in the second round. And so on.
David S, Toronto
A: Yes, I can. Two actually.
One has to do with television; the networks that do games during the week want to have a game a night, which is much better for us viewers and much better than having two or three dark nights to stop playoff broadcast momentum.
And the other one has to do with competition, and I’m okay with it.
If the eighth seed upsets a No. 1, shouldn’t they get what’s perceived as a “reward” of playing 4-5 rather than have to play, say, the second seed?
Hey, know what I’ve got?
The Canadian TV schedule for the first week of the playoffs.
Hey, know what I know?
All 22 games are going to be available and only two are on TSN2.
I really don’t want to list ‘em all here so we’ll just go through the weekend.
Saturday, The Score’s got a triple-header – Chicago-Boston at 12:30 p.m. and an 8 p.m. twinbill of Dallas-San Antonio and Houston-Portland with Detroit-Cleveland at 3 on ABC.
Sunday, after the 3 p.m. Jazz-Lakers game on ABC, RaptorsTV has Orlando-Philly at 5:30 and New Orleans-Denver at 10:30 with The Score doing Miami at Atlanta at 8 p.m.
Tell you what I’ll do, just for you. If you’d like an in-game blog for one of the Sunday evening affairs, I’ll be around. I’m thinking Miami-Atlanta so we can check out Jermaine and Jamario but if enough of you feel strongly about one of the others, I can be persuaded to change.
An offer of compensation would help, too.
We’re standing in the hallway outside the locker room in the United Center last night and while there was a large measure of happiness at what had transpired, I couldn’t help but get the feeling the over-riding emotion was anger.
As in, what if this had happened four weeks ago? What if Bosh and Marion and Calderon had figured it out earlier? What if they had made the trade a month before they did? Where would they be? Well, looking at the way the Eastern Conference playoff dregs (Chicago, Philly and Detroit come leaping to mind) the Raptors could make a very valid claim to being the fifth-best team in the conference.
But their stinky play in the middle of the season, the lack of depth and experience on the bench, killed them and rendered the 9-4 finish to a “what if” situation.
Okay, all games are not created equal. If they were, none would stand out over the course of the season and we all know that’s not true.
After combing the catacombs of my mind, and looking over various pieces of scrap paper I’ve accumulated since last Halloween, here are three bitter losses and three significant wins in what can be a trip down memory lane.
Raptors 112, Warriors 108 (OT)
Oh yeah, baby, this was going to be some season. Second win to open the season, a bit of a thriller against the wacky Warriors and their rather odd style of play and the new-look Raptors give the home folks something to cheer about.
It looks like Chris Bosh, who has 31 and nine and I think heard the first faint M-V-P chants, is going to get along quite nicely with Jermaine O’Neal, who doesn’t look entirely out of place at all.
Jose gets 13 assists and, I swear, the optimism was off the charts.
And some of the fans looked really cute in their costumes.
Raptors 107, Kings 101
This whole Bosh-O’Neal thing really was something to watch. The sickening feeling that it was never really going to work had been around for a couple of weeks because the offence wasn’t flowing, Bargnani wasn’t doing much and the two bigs were just getting by.
And then, presto! They go to Sacramento right after Christmas, O’Neal has 36 and nine, Bosh has 13 and 7 despite serious foul trouble and they left the archaic Arco Arena thinking this might have been the breakthrough game of the year.
But it was nice to dream.
Raptors 99, Magic 95
Sure, the season was probably over by that point but they didn’t think that at all. (Funny about athletes, they really don’t think it’s ever over until it’s over).
But I digress.
It was all well and good that they had beaten such minnows as the Clippers (and minnow really is over-stating it with them) and Milwaukee and those pesky Thunders but to go into Orlando against a really good team and come up with a late-season road win was pretty gratifying.
It made the next two days off in the sunny south a little easier to take. (That’s for all ones in the sunny south, that is; some of us were stuck back in the bracing cold snap of home. But I digress).
Nets 129, Raptors 127 (OT)
|THE CANADIAN PRESS|
|Seems like just yesterday we were throwing lamps at our TVs after this.|
You know how so many of you hate Vince Carter?
Think how much worse that hate is because of what he did that night at the Air Canada Centre.
Goofy three-point dagger from about 30 feet to tie it at the end of regulation and then the dunk at the overtime buzzer to win the game.
Oh yeah, you folks were over the (Jamario) Moon with your vitriol that night after the one time love of your lives went beserk.
Funny thing is, this might have been the game that really started Sam Mitchell on the slippery slope to unemployment; it’s one thing to lose, it’s quite another to lose at home after blowing an 18-point lead to Vince Freaking Carter.
Thunder 91, Raptors 83
Okay, there were more than a few road spit-ups that it should be easy to pick out three or four as absolute rock bottom moments, right?
Maybe there is, but few stand out more than this gag job against a Thunder team that was like 1-1,200 at time (okay, 2-24 or something but you get my drift).
And what made it even worse? The retirement, at halftime, of Mr. O’Neal, who went back to the locker room with some kind of sore shoulder while his defenceless teammates were left to watch Durant et al run circles around them.
The injury certainly wasn’t serious. Mr. O’Neal cheated death and played the very next night in San Antonio.
Knicks 127, Raptors 97
Everybody’s all a’twitter going into the game because it’s relatively big, against a team they’re chasing at time when making a move up the standings was actually a possibility, or at least we thought it was.
So, they go into a “statement” game and the “statement” they make is thus: We give up!
The Knicks hung 42 on them in the first quarter, led by 20 and absolutely beat them into submission. The Raptors were shell-shocked from the time they were down 9-0, I think it was, and the total capitulation was shocking.
And another indignity against a body.
So there you have it, some highs, some lows, some waltzes down memory lane. It’s been a bumpy waltz, for sure.
Oh, there’s this:
Reasons Why I Often Hate Air Canada With The White Hot Intensity Of 1,000 Suns, Vol. Too Many To Count.
Arrive at O’Hare about 5:15 this morning, all three hours of sleep having me fresh as a freaking daisy, to find that the 7 a.m. flight had been cancelled. Last night. At 5 p.m.!
With an increasing level of anger and incredulity, asked the lovely woman why in the world Air Canada Elite services might not have, you know, CALLED ME! Or E-MAILED ME! Or sent a stinky carrier pigeon or something, since they’ve done it in the past
“Well, sir, it says here they couldn’t reach you.”
If there was a little bubble over her head, it would have said:
“Well, sir, it says here they couldn’t reach you because they didn’t try because customers are a mere inconvenience to Air Canada.”
Flights over for now.
Here’s the funny thing about last night’s game.
There were 20,000 or so dejected fans in the building, a whole raft of bitter Bulls people in the locker room and front office and a half dozen or so entirely happy grunt-types who now get to spend time in Boston rather than in Orlando.
Trust me, that’s making at least a few writers extremely happy.
And speaking of Chicago writers, The One And Only K.C. Johnson, scribbler to the stars, chronicled the events of last eve thusly.
One last reminder, I’m going to be around these parts about 1 p.m. today to answer the questions that are burning in the back of your mind. Feel free to join in the fun and frivolity but if anyone dares breathe the words Air Canada, we have ways of tracking IP addresses and will send a plague of locusts your way. Honest. We will.
Okay, sure, the season isn’t officially over yet but what the heck, let’s see how these guys did. (Besides, I don’t have a lot of witty things today on the last day of the regular season).
The bright ones among you will notice no grades, as is traditional, because I personally think they’re silly. Do you grade against the best in the league? The worst in the league? Themselves? Their past? Their future? See? Silly.
|What should Chris Bosh do this summer? Here's a hint.|
Oh, one thing first. Tomorrow, as you know, is the day after the season ends and what’s a better way of spending the day after the season ends than by having a wee chat with your favourite grunt? (That’d be me, sillyheads!)
So, if it’s okay with you, I’ll be around at 1 p.m. on Thursday to answer a few questions for an hour or so.
Now, let’s look at these guys:
Highlight: Should set all-time NBA record for free throw percentage; unless Calvin Murphy puts some long-distance hex on him tonight. He’s missed three all year; Dwight Howard’s missed three since you starting reading this.
Lowlight: Right, that pesky hamstring injury that robbed him of six weeks of practice in the middle of the regular season isn’t something anyone will remember fondly. Especially because it’s the one thing that ruined the season more than anything else.
Summer job: No one wants the little fella to turn into Lou Ferrigno or anything but he’s got to get stronger. Fighting through screens on defence is not one of his fortes; neither is lateral quickness and if he could find a sprint coach to work with, that’d be cool.
|TARA WALTON/TORONTO STAR|
|Teams are looking for what Anthony Parker brings to the table.|
Highlight: Who knew? Point guard becomes a very sore spot and there’s AP, bringing the ball up, handling pressure, making smart decisions. They found that out and it should be another reason to keep him around next year.
Lowlight: Got awful old awful early in the season, which led to another of his chronic slow starts. Oh, and posting career lows in field goal percentage (42.7) and three-point percentage (39.0) was nothing to write home about.
Summer job: Settling the future would be Job 1 – is Europe really an option? Would a team like, say, Philly or Atlanta, covet his leadership? That, and get used to a reduced role because that’s what he’d have in Toronto.
Highlight: It’s not like the Raptors were ever filthy rich in defending, rebounding, court-savvy small forwards so the simple fact he could do those things made uber-valuable.
Lowlight: Providing filthy richness in defending, rebounding and court savvy is one thing, but in the name of all that’s good in the world, couldn’t the guy be a bit better finisher around the rim?
Summer job: Wait for July 1, plan meeting with financial advisers, get out bankbook, find out how much of a salary hit he can afford to take because that’s what’s coming and whether that means he stays in Toronto or leaves is entirely open to debate for that reason.
Highlight: Blistering November may have been his best month ever as a Raptor (remember the M-V-P chants?) and showed how much his game could improve at both ends.
Lowlight: Another knee woe, although he did miss only four games, which is hardly a huge thing; there was that funk that enveloped him in December, just when the season really went in the toilet.
Summer job: Get some rest. Seriously. Do nothing. Do not play. Do not work. Sleep like you’re a worn out grunt. The last time he took a full summer off was 2005 and he came back to have an excellent season. Oh, and maybe figure out what’s what for 2010? Nah, that’s not going to happen.
Highlight: He improved in nearly every facet of the game, which is not a bad nor unexpected thing for a third-year big man. If there was a bright spot for the franchise, he was it. Anecdotically, he probably committed fewer silly offensive fouls than he ever did.
Lowlight: Okay, so he’s still not the Italian Rodman. He’s getting better but there were too many one, two, or zero rebounding games.
Summer job: If he does play for the Italian national team, and he most likely will, perhaps he could bribe the coach to run an offence centred around him in the low post so he can work on his game. Oh, and maybe develop some rebounding skills.
|STEVE RUSSELL/TORONTO STAR|
|Roko Ukic had some great moments driving to the hoop.|
Highlight: Say what you will about the kid, but he’s got ice water in the veins; not too many rookies can win two games down the stretch like he did against Orlando and San Antonio with big-time, late-game baskets.
Lowlight: Quarter’s ending. Ball’s in his hands. Teammates anxiously awaiting passes. Yeah, right. Working on giving the ball up every now and then would endear him to his coaches – not to mention his teammates.
Summer job: How’s 500 jumpers a day sound? No? Okay, how’s 1,000 jumpers a day sound? Kid’s a gym rat and a summer in some Croatia gym, working with the words of coach Gord Herbert ringing in his ears, would be nice.
Highlight: Showed more in four months under Jay Triano than he did in any other four-month period before; except for maybe that 16-game spell in ’07. Shocking athleticism was on display.
Lowlight: Showed little defensive consistency, even in that four-month stretch, and that’s been a sore spot for him for years.
Summer job: Sit back and wait because his future really isn’t his to decide. Other offers may come flooding in but he’s a restricted free agent so it’ll depend on what Bryan Colangelo wants to do. And in the game of Raptor Dominoes, he’s nearer the end than the front.
Highlight: Maybe you don’t remember them right away but there were a few games where he looked great, assertive on offence and hitting his shots. For real. Check the boxscores. There were. Honest.
Lowlight: How about a three-point shooter who doesn’t take a lot of three-point shots? And the little running hook in the lane? That’s gotta go.
Summer job: Work on lowering the old handicap would do it. Oh, and keep the phone on because there’s a high probability Colangelo will try to move him. And, if he wants to develop a, ahem, J Killa attitude in basketball, that’d be nice.
|ANDREW WALLACE/TORONTO STAR|
|The ball was a bit too slippery in his hands, but at least Pops was in the paint.|
Highlight: The kid’s crazy good on the offensive boards and his activity and effort gave the fans something to get excited about; without, you know, all that ripping off of shirt and faux wrestling persona.
Lowlight: This whole “grab-the-offensive-board-bring-the-ball-down-to-his-knees-where-every-little-guy-in-the-world-grab-it” thing has to stop. It sort of takes away from the whole rebounding thing.
Summer job: If he’s going to come back, he’s going to have to spend a whole lot of time working on the offensive parts of the game. If he can’t score, he really can’t be on the court at crunch time.
Highlight: Looks great in pre-game warmups and has had a couple of moments in games – he’s quick and long and not a bad finisher – that makes you go, “oh, that’s why he was a No. 9 draft pick.”
Lowlight: Never really got a chance to compile many of them, actually. But watching him get bounced around under the glass isn’t something the coaches want to see.
Summer job: If they decided to pick up his option for next year – and that’s a tough call because they need to add depth – he’s got to get in the gym and get stronger.
Highlight: Provided one of the best names in franchise history. But also showed he can handle both backcourt positions in nothing games against going-nowhere teams at the end of a lost season.
Lowlight: Never got a chance to play a meaningful minute in a big game. Raps really don’t know what they’ve got in the young guard.
Summer job: Kill at summer league so he can keep guaranteeing his contract.
Highlight: Was a big hit in Ask Hump over at From Deep. And the locker room byplay with him, Moon and AP was hilarious at times.
Lowlight: That whole broken fibula thing was a bummer.
Summer job: Get with the coaches – not with any friend or family members – and work on his game. Get strength coach Keith D’Amelia to work him back into shape.
Highlight: Killing the selfish style of play in the D League, not to mention slagging Idaha, was a pretty cool interview.
Lowlight: A pesky cardiac condition that robbed him of half his rookie year sucked.
Summer job: Play. Wherever he can.
Highlight: No, I can't think of one, either.
Lowlight: The season-ending toe surgery was pretty bad.
Summer job: Get back in shape, go play in the summer league, try to be more than an end-of-the-bencher next year.
Highlight: No one committed more smart, hard fouls. And he's a great guy.
Lowlight: The six fouls in eight minutes or whatever it was in Phoenix was a classic.
Summer job: Get his agent working because I cannot see how he can come back.
Okay, that’s a look at the players. We’ll have more, including some stuff on the coaches and the front office, over the next couple of days.
Oh, right. Award time.
All right, it’s time to put up or shut up on the last of the awards I’ve got to do: Coach of the Year.
Man, it was hard.
You know I think coaching is kind of over-rated (too much credit when they win, too much blame when they lose) and that’s primarily because talent wins out over all. To me, the secret of really good coaching is getting your team to play consistently, with effort and pride and being able to adapt to injuries, deal with knuckleheads and avoid any catastrophic personality meltdowns over the course of a long, long regular season.
So, when it comes time to e-mail my ballot away later on today, here’s how it’s going to look:
Stan Van Gundy
(Although I may flip a coin and put Nate McMillan in third)
Yes, Mike Brown has great talent in Cleveland and the best record in the NBA; sure, Phil Jackson dealt with no Andrew Bynum and convinced Lamar Odom to come off the bench; yeah, Jerry Sloan (of the eighth place Utah Jazz, by the way) is going to the Hall of Fame before he’ll be a coach of the year.
But Karl has the Denver Nuggets second in the West, integrated a new point guard after a trade, dealt with the rather diverse personalities of Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and J. R. Smith and somehow kept it all together. That’s no mean feat.
All right, kids. A bit longer than usual today but it’s a special day. And don’t forget to check back here tonight at 8 for the final in-game Raptor blog of the season.
Yes, the game meant nothing. But try telling that to the players who were almost giddy after the win in Washington. Joking, goofing around, laughing. I know they’ve had a horrible year and Lord knows there’ll be time to dissect all that went wrong in the next fortnight or so but, what the heck, that was a good one to watch.
Of course, we could get a pooch of an affair tomorrow in Chicago that leaves a bad taste for a day or two but for now, enjoy it while it lasts.
|There's just so many happy photos to choose from these days.|
Action: Butler gets stopped
Reaction: Credit Alvin.
This story is absolutely legit, the timing just happens to be perfect in my Get Alvin On The Staff crusade.
It’s last Saturday after practice, or so I’m told by people who were there and would know, and Alvin’s chatting with some Raptor types about the Friday game, where Caron Butler hit that jumper at the buzzer to win.
You remember that, Butler set up, dribbled about 10 seconds off the clock and then drove on Marion and scored. Well, in that time he was dribbling out the clock, Butler sort of moved back towards midcourt to get a better angle and create some space.
Well, what Williams couldn’t understand – and I sure didn’t think of it at the time, I doubt any of you did and I’m sure not many Raptors did, either – was why Marion didn’t chase him to midcourt, put some pressure on him, make him go earlier, or at least turn him somewhere he didn’t want to go.
Makes entire sense, doesn’t it?
Well, last night, sort of the same situation (although there was less time and less of an isolation) and we saw Marion right up on Butler, forcing him to go and sending him quickly to help.
Not bad strategy, eh?
You know who had a lot of fun at the game?
Steve and Jenny of Toronto.
Met the nice couple before the game, replete in their Raptor jerseys, saw them with some pretty good seats during the game and, after the game, they were the proud owners of someone’s shoe, tossed to them as the players walked off the court.
Not sure what it is about Washington but there are always a lot of Toronto fans throughout the crowd. Met a guy last year wearing a Garbo replica jersey from Malaga, there were more than a few Calderon jerseys last night and at least a couple of hundred other Raptor fans that I saw and heard.
Not bad, people. Not bad at all.
It’s still All Flip All The Time down here, as you’ll see when you troll through the site but Michael Lee still got some game stuff in today’s Washington Post.
Award time, again.
Since the one I’m really struggling with is coach of the year, let’s leave that until the last minute (I could use another day to think about it) and do the MVP today.
But here are the questions:
Is he simply the best player on the best team? How about the most overall skilled player in the league? Someone who’s great at one facet of the game but only okay in others? Is he the one guy a so-so team simply cannot afford to lose?
To me, it’s a combination, and that’s where the absolute subjectivity of the issue comes in. And that’s why we get to argue about it.
Is Dwyane Wade more valuable than Dwight Howard? How about Kobe over LeBron? Chris Paul or Brandon Roy? How did Tony Parker keep the Spurs together when everyone was hurt? How can you not mention Chauncey Billups?
Decisions, decisions, decisions.
As regulars will know, I was wavering between Kobe and LeBron all year; I still think Kobe’s the best player in the game for all the things he does and LeBron may be the most physically imposing specimen in the game today.
But despite Kobe’s greatness (and I honestly think sometimes he gets short shrift in the East because we see more Cavs highlights than Laker ones over the course of the season)., there’s no way I can’t vote for James this time around.
The ballot, however, contains five slots and filling them out isn’t going to be easy at all.
So, when it comes to turn mine in, it’s going to look like this (unless someone convinces me otherwise today, and I don’t imagine that’s going to happen):
Have at it, those who disagree.
I presume you’ve all read this quote in the game story from today’s paper and website but in case you didn’t, what Bosh said after the game resonates:
“For me, playing basketball period is always fun. I’m not going to lie to you, it’s more fun when you’ve got something to play for but it’s still fun, it’s the NBA. I’ve said this before, it’s always been my dream to play here and it’d be a shame and waste to come out here and go through the motions and act like I don’t want to be here.”
Okay, finally, we’ve got a playoff matchup definitely set.
Cleveland-Detroit became unavoidable last night when the Cavs won and Pistons lost and while there might have been a time when the Pistons could have expected to win a series like that, there’s no way they win a game this time around, I don’t think.
But, most importantly, and most significantly to the Raptors, Chicago’s win over Detroit keeps alive the Bulls’ hopes of finishing sixth and getting Orlando in the first round instead of Boston.
That means they may very well need to win tomorrow night against the Raptors and could turn an otherwise meaningless game into something with a level of intensity.
Now, the other thing I’m going to be watching closely is the reaction of the various grunts.
What do you think they’d rather have: A playoff series in Boston, one of the truly great cities with character, atmosphere, a buzz about it. Or a playoff series in Orlando, a series of off-ramps to outlet malls and amusement parks?
Hmm, I see it’s raining here in D.C. as I get ready to post this and head to the airport. Since the last time I tried to travel in the rain it took almost 11 hours to get from Pearson to Laguardia, I’m sort of hoping for a better day today. After all, the final off day of the regular season should be spent checking out the culture in Chicago rather than the dreariness of DCA.
Wish me luck.
Doug Smith has been a sportswriter for more than 30 years, a journey that's included seven Olympic Games, numerous and varied championships and more dreary regular season games than he'd care to remember. Here, he'll talk about them all, as well as current events and pop culture. (Just don’t ask him about music nowadays — it's not his cup of tea).