Seriously, it's Real Professional Men's Basketball we're about to witness.
Honest, it is
Seriously, it's Real Professional Men's Basketball we're about to witness.
Honest, it is
Join Doug Smith at noon Friday for a live basketball Q&A, as the Raptors get ready to take on the Denver Nuggets.
What do you think they’ll do tonight? Show up? Compete? Play hard?
It’s like Forrest’s box of chocolates, isn’t it? You never know.
Guess that’s kind of fun, although you’d like more of the fight they showed in the Atlanta game not too long ago to surface and you’d like fewer of those utter capitulations like they put up against Oklahoma City and Utah.
The trouble is, no one can really come up with the one answer to the one question that’s on everyone’s list:
There are theories, of course, and the one that I keep wondering about is if this group really gets along. And by that I mean do they trust each other on the court to make the right play or do the right thing or be there to get a teammates’ back.
The off-the-court chemistry is so over-rated, it’s not funny. A couple of wins and everyone’s happy, a couple of losses and everyone’s surly and it’s been that way for eons.
Here’s how one insider put it to me Thursday:
“It doesn’t matter if they like each other. Do you like everyone you work with? Do you think Ron Artest and Pau Gasol go out for dinner? How about Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut, you think they hang out? Just play.”
And that’s the one thing they haven’t done nearly enough. Just play.
The confounding thing to all concerned over there is that they’ve shown the ability to play a fair amount. Times are horrid right now, no question; but there have been moments of good that make the moments of horrid even more confusing.
I don’t think anyone has a simple solution. It’s not just coaching, it’s not just mental toughness, it’s not just physical fitness, it’s not just Inside Basketball stuff like rotations and help-side defence.
As Bryan put it in Dave’s column today, it’s like they’ve emotionally shut down for a few weeks.
Everyone’s talking a good game about having to fight and laying it all on the line and it’s time to think team rather than individual.
But as we all know, talk is cheap.
I’m tired of hearing it, you’re tired of hearing it and I presume they’re tried of saying it.
Boy, those Chicago Bulls sure showed some fight Thursday night, didn’t they? Edged by 29 by the Heat, gutsy home performance, indeed.
That was down right Raptoresque.
Makes the turtle race for No. 8 far more compelling, doesn’t it?
If Turk can’t go Friday – and he didn’t practice Thursday so I’m presuming he won’t if tradition holds – it has to be Sonny Weems that starts in that spot.
Not only did Jay use Weems when Turk couldn’t go on Wednesday, it sticks with the coach’s mantra of letting guys get some run in against their former teams.
And, yes, he may have spend the majority of his season in Denver on the inactive list, but Sonny was indeed a Nugget.
Not a guy who wistfully recalls the glory days, though.
I asked him Thursday if he had any special affinity for George Karl, trying to sniff out some heartfelt concern for an old coach and got a somewhat underwhelming response:
“No, not really. We said our hi’s and bye’s, that’s about it.”
A whole bunch was made here Thursday about Jay’s post-game comment Wednesday about being okay with his team’s effort against the Jazz.
Talk about much ado about nothing.
Of course he wasn’t happy but the next time he publicly throws his team under the bus will be the first and that’s why you didn’t see any of us who cover the team on a regular basis use the quote or get all worked up about it.
Sure, it would have been better or if he’d said nothing or something like “they were dogs and I wanted to strangle every last one of ‘em for looking like they didn’t care” but that wasn’t going to happen.
You roll your eyes, let him answer and get on with the next question.
You hang around coaches long enough – and, believe me, it’s not just Jay who mouths a cliché every now and then that he really doesn’t believe – and you know how to separate wheat from chaff.
Which is what all of us who were there did with that one.
In Denver, today’s story is this.
Oh, and in Toronto, the masses will assemble at noon to ask some questions and be wildly entertained by the answers.
(Yes, that means we’ll be here at 12 for the usual game-day chinwag).
A Chauncey Billups story:
I don’t remember an awful lot about the half season Chauncey spent here back in 1997-98 (that was the end of the 16-66 season and I’ve tired unsuccessfully to block that entire sordid episode out of my mind) except that he tended to shoot an awful lot.
I guarantee you no one – teammates, coaches, GMs, scouts – saw him as a future NBA Finals MVP and one of the most respected veteran point guards in the game, which is a testament to Chauncey’s test of wills.
What I remember is a young kid on a truly dreadful basketball team playing in a foreign land and not really having a great time in any aspect of his existence.
And one Sunday I walked into the Raptors locker room at the old mausoleum fresh from an appearance that morning on some TV chat show I used to get invited to every now and then.
Chauncey, who’d been living in the Mausoleum Hotel as I recall, wanders over and says something, “hey, I just saw you on TV, good job.”
And I’m thinking, ‘wow, kid. Get a life.”
But it was nice of him to say and it stuck with for a very long time.
In case you missed it on the TV highlights, the rather long season of the Peel District School Board Grade 8 Boys Basketball Season (at least that’s what I call it) came to a close this week with the annual playoff tournament.
(I know, it was like a four-week break between the end of the regular season and the playoffs, which kind of sucks the momentum out of a season but does allow for things like March Break and the second-term report card angst).
Anyway, the Mighty Hawks of Hawthorn were kind of drubbed in their semi by the Dastardly Queenston Cougars (who were like the early-60s Celtics) but they rebounded to knock off the Green Glade Gators to finish third in the four-team loop.
So Super Son’s career ends on a winning note, the reports are everyone had fun, which is the biggest thing, and now it’s time to start thinking Mighty Yankees.
Bet you can’t wait, eh?
Good question, eh?
I wish I knew.
There are no easy answers and anyone who tells you otherwise is blowing smoke and that’s got to be the most confounding thing to the staff right now.
It’s not one guy and it’s not one thing, there are a lot of problems and it’s going to take determination and hard work to get back on track before this thing goes entirely off the rails.
Can they? Well, they did back in December, which is grasping at straws, but if you’re in that locker room, you need something good to think about and I don’t know that there is anything like that at the moment.
Calling himself out
It was kind of interesting to stand there and listen to Jose take responsibility for not getting Deron Williams stopped for a lot of the game.
It might have been the first time this season that I heard a guy in that locker room use the word “I” when discussing what went wrong.
“He got me in the first quarter like three times in a row or something like that After I was a little bit better in the second half but he’s a tough guy to guard and he had a good game. It wasn’t my best game, it happens sometimes.
“It was too easy and it was kid of straight line sometimes so it was my fault. What are you going to do? It happens.”
Not that it’s any consolation, of course, he had a bad night like about four other guys did. He missed a couple of open looks early, couldn’t keep Williams in front of him – not that many point guards in the league can.
If you think he was the sole reason they lost, think again; but a guy standing there and taking stock of what he did was kind of nice to see.
Man, I’ve got to tell you, trying to come up with three talking points off that one is hard.
Let’s do this: How ‘bout them Jazz?
That’s a pretty good basketball team over there but I will take umbrage with one point Jay made about them a couple of times in his post-game session when he twice said:
“They’re bigger, they’re faster, they’re stronger.” I don’t think they are, actually.
They are not overly big, they are not overly athletic and, yes, they may by strong but it’s not a roster dotted with a bunch of Hercules clones
What they are is tougher
Way, way, way, way, way tougher.
They know what they want to do and they do it. They played every possession like it mattered, they competed every minute of the game at both ends of the court.
They were the anti-Raptors.
I still don’t think they can win the West – precisely because they are under-sized and relatively unathletic – but they are fun to watch for their workmanlike approach to the game.
Change for change’s sake
You saw a whole lot of zone defence from the Heroes Of The Hardcourt last night, didn’t you? Now, I’m actually working on an Inside The Game takeout on that very issue for the weekend and it was nice of them to play some last night to help me out.
But the reason isn’t something that goes with the usual decision to switch defences.
Last night, as Jay said, it was a case of necessity.
“I thought the zone was okay only because it made five guys have to guard one and make him do something else than break us down or dish off to somebody.”
Couple of other quick things:
You know, having watched this team for each of its 15 years, I consider myself Canada’s foremost expert in bad – very bad – basketball but we’re talking a historical stretch of ineptitude of late.
As pointed out by the crack Raptors PR staff, the 115-89 loss to Oklahoma on Friday and the 113-87 loss to Utah last night is the first time in franchise history they’ve lost consecutive home games by at least 26 points.
See, it’s not that bad: You’ve witnessed history.
Something to tell the grandkids about, isn’t it?
You probably noticed a little change in the way things looked last night, and I’m not talking about the nifty green Jazz uniforms.
The game was backwards.
The Jazz is one of the very few teams – might be the only one in the league to do it now – who turn the arena around, shooting at the west end of the gym to start the game.
The visiting team always gets the choice of which way they want the game to go but teams usually choose to have the defence in front of them for the fourth quarter.
Except Jerry Sloan, I guess.
Oh, and the Nets used to do it every now and then under Lawrence Frank, too, but those are the only two I remember.
Speaking of the Jazz, here’s what the Tribune in Salt Lake had to say about that one.
It’s always fun to get out courtside a couple of hours before the game, when the very first group that does its pre-game warmup takes to the court.
The first group out is Sonny, DeMar and Patrick and it’s almost worth the price of admission (given the last two home games it probably is worth the price of admission) to watch ‘em. Trash talking abounds, the rotating one-on-one games that also include Alvin Williams are, um, spirited and it really does look like a bunch of kids just having fun playing ball.
Kind of refreshing, actually.
Yesterday, it ended with the three players sitting in the front row courtside at about the hash mark trying to make shots from the seats.
I think Sonny was the first to make one, which caused even more jabbering and was quite entertaining.
Then the game started and mood went sour pretty quickly.
Okay, I’ll ask for mail but, please, no rants and no “They suck. Your thoughts?” questions, okay?
A moment of silence please.
Now run out and rent Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.
And as many seasons of I Spy as there are out there and relive the glory that was Robert Culp, who died yesterday at 79.
Okay, glory might be a stretch but that is a pretty good movie, as I recall.
And away we go ...
All settled in for Real Professional Men's Basketball?
Sit back and enjoy
Join Doug Smith at noon Wednesday for a live basketball Q&A, as the Raptors get ready to take on the Utah Jazz.
Here we go, four games, six nights. Should be a heckuva ride.
That’s what the conversation got around to at practice on Tuesday: body language and sour faces and overall demeanour.
Personally, I see where it plays a role. You don’t want Grumpy Guys bringing down the mood around a team and if someone’s all slumped over and not looking like they care or are having a good, a trickle down impact does exist.
The question from M. Grange ™ was specifically about Jarrett Jack, who seemed more of his chatty bon vivant self in the last couple of games – and it elicited this response from Jay.
“If you’re playing on a team and you look back for the guy who’s making the calls or who’s bringing the ball up the floor and they’re hanging their heads or in a sour frame of mind, you start wondering what’s wrong with him instead of what can we do to get better.
“I think it builds our whole team when our leaders – all of them, I’m talking about Chris and Turk and Andrea, everybody – stand tall and they have their heads up and act confident.”
Jarrett admitted that he took a change in the starting lineup personally and that it probably wasn’t the best thing for the team but, really, who can blame him.
These guys, after all, are human, believe it or not. Just imagine how you’d feel if your boss came to you one day and said he was changing your responsibilities? Nothing personal, of course, but you can’t do what you’ve been doing because, well, because we like the other guy better.
It may make sense to an outsider and to sports fans concerned only with the final score feelings often don’t enter into the equation.
But can’t you see how a guy would be irked right off the bat? Understand how it might take a couple of days to get used to a new lot in life?
I can. And I think it says a lot about a guy who gets over it quickly and gets back to being his normal self, which I think we’ve seen Jarrett do over the last few days. As Antoine Wright pointed out:
"We need him to be upbeat, playing hard, talking, getting everybody involved because that’s when we’re at our best.
"Sometimes body language can be misinterpreted. He’s a mentally tough guy, he just wasn’t having a good week; sometimes people tend to wear their emotions on their sleeve a bit more than other people."
Lord knows (hi, T.J.) that some take a lot longer to deal with it.
I was trying to think of any good stories over the years about the Jazz and being in Salt Lake and then I remembered, it’s the Jazz and being in Salt Lake.
But I guess there were a couple.
The fans in Salt Lake can be quite, um, vocal and opinionated and it’s a great arena where they are right on top of the action.
Well, one night, back in the day, a couple of them were giving Darrell Walker the business as he’s leaving the court and they were being quite rude. Darrell, being Darrell, flips them the bird and ends up getting a $5,000 fine for his actions.
Glen Grunwald, then the GM, was on the trip, and we were sitting in the lounge of the downtown Marriott dissecting the game and the Walker incident and wondering how it’d play with the league.
Seems we didn’t have to be that worried because that same day, Latrell Sprewell tried to choke P.J. Carlisemo and that kind of dominated the NBA news.
Salt Lake is also the place Jay coached his first game a year ago after replacing Sam and, for city not known for its bars, it was a place where Quag and I were able to sit and watch the Grey Cup on year in a pretty good sports bar.
If you’ve got questions, I try to come up with sensible answers if you stop by these parts around noon.
Speaking of Salt Lake and NBA news, here’s an offering from today’s Trib on the future of yet another ex-Raptor still hanging around the game.
So before snoozing on the couch most of the night, I flipped through a bit of the Knicks-Nuggets thriller and saw New York wearing No. 15 patches on their uniforms in tribute to the late Knick icon Dick McGuire.
I’m thinking that’s a nice tribute to a guy who spent more than six decades with the organization in some way, shape or form.
And I also figured it was nicer than what they should have been wearing:
Little hearts with No. 23 in them. Or, even better, little hearts with No. 6 in them.
A fair amount of mail yesterday, some of it even non-rants. But there’s room for more if you click here with your query.
So how big are these next four games?
Big, no question about it. But to suggest the entire season rides on the outcome of games against Utah, Denver, Miami and Charlotte (I figure 2-2 is a pretty good result) is a bit of an overstatement.
Even if it goes south between now and next Monday, there’ll still be nine games to go and the season won’t be lost.
Looking at how jumbled the standings are – and I’m talking only the Heat, Bobcats, Raptors and Bulls – an awful lot can happen in nine games so, please, when we get to the end of this series, don’t think the season’s over one way or the other.
It won’t be. And the emotional rollercoaster ride will continue.
All right, they beat a team with a horrible record, just like you’d expect them too and if it didn’t look pretty, big whoop.
As they say in that other game, it’s not how, it’s how many and now they’re at 34 35 and counting.
Make a move?
Is it time now to do Antoine Wright for DeMar DeRozan, make Sonny Weems the first wing off the bench and see how the last 14 13 games of the season unfold?
I think I’d do it.
It’s not so much a knock against DeRozan, although the first six minutes last night were somewhat ghastly before he turned around, as it would be a move to shore up the rotation at the crucial time of the season.
Wright’s been playing pretty well the last two games and he is the team’s best perimeter defender and I think that’s what you need on the court to set the tone at the start of games and third quarters.
The thing with DeRozan was always about his development, even if there was a cost involved. He got good minutes against good players, didn’t really cost his team any games but now it’s time for a guy who’s been there to take over.
The next four games are pretty big and could very well define where they finish – especially the two roadies at Miami and Charlotte on the weekend.
It’s time for the guys who have been there to do it; time for Wright.
Big time plays
Yes, it hasn’t happened enough; no, he hasn’t played particularly well; yes, it’s been a huge disappointment bordering on a bust.
But there was a stretch in that fourth quarter that Hedo Turkoglu did precisely what he was brought here to do and if it’s a signal that things are turning about, that can’t hurt.
First, he made a big three to quell a Minnesota run, then he drove and kicked to an open Antoine Wright for another big three and he had the ball on every offensive set.
The difference? I was talking to one of the coaches the other day and he said they’d made some very minor tweaks that seem to be working.
First, they’re getting Turkoglu the ball more in the middle at the top, rather than on the wing, which gives him more options. And, most important, they want him to get it a few seconds earlier, again so there are more options on any high screen.
I have no idea what the next 14 games will prove with Turk but it has been more engaged and more active in the last four or five and that’s pretty huge.
And to sit here and whine about how bad he was early in the season really does nothing. He wasn’t good, it didn’t take Red Auerbach, or Red Buttons, to figure it out but it’s not like the season can’t be redeemed with a few weeks of excellent play.
Soft, soft, soft
So they go up by 14 with 5:54 left in the third and they should home and cooled out, no?
They get an offensive foul on Bosh, Bargnani’s blocked by Love, Jose commits a turnovers and Bosh misses a jumper.
In the meantime, that lock-down Raptors defence gives up makes on four of six possessions and all of sudden, that 14-point lead is down to five with 3:15 to go.
If you get a bad team down, a team that’s just playing out the string, you need to close it out.
It didn’t come back and bite them in the bum last night; it will if they do it against any kind of good team and there are a lot of them left on the schedule.
Just a bit more
A story not apropos of anything, really, except Minneapolis and walking.
It was kind of funny to hear about the Raptors bus breaking down and the players having to take cabs to the arena – the coaches made the arduous five-block walk – for shootaround.
Reminded me of another Minneapolis walk that saved a season.
It was way back in 2002, March 19 to be exact, and the Raptors were drilled 112-80 by the Timberwolves in what I recall being a particularly ugly game.
They were 30-38 at the time, had lost four in a row, He Who Shall Not Be Named was hurt, I’m not entlrely sure the coach of the day, a Mr. Wilkens, was the hardest-working man in show biz and the season was in the toilet.
They were staying the night before heading off to Cleveland and Dell Curry and Antonio Davis decided to walk back to the hotel. It was during that conversation that the two veterans really got ticked at the team’s plight and decided enough was enough and that they’d finish strong. It was sort of the last straw.
Well, don’t they rattle off nine straight wins and 10 of 12 to finish the season in seventh in the East, AD plays his brains out for the entire stretch and they extend Detroit to five games in a best-of-five playoff series before losing.
Not sure what Dell said to Antonio on that walk but it sure worked.
Too bad someone didn’t walk with Turk to shootaround yesterday.
In Minneapolis, here’s the kind of stories they’re reading as the Timberwolves play out the string.
Miami 99, New Jersey 89
Chicago 98, Houston 88
Milwaukee 98, Atlanta 95
At least Charlotte didn’t win.
Oh, I think we can safely say the Bucks are out of reach and that sixth is the best they can finish.
The mind is a terrible thing to waste.
I knew that Nate Doornekamp went to Boston College, yet there I went in a story yesterday talking about how he went to Carleton as a bunch of players from the national team program who went to the same school.
Oh, dopey me.
First call of the week for mail, which you can send here. Thanks.
You know they’re now done with road games against the West and finish with an underwhelming 3-12 record.
The wins? At Minnesota, at the Clips and at New Orleans.
Road warriors they are not.
How about them Huskies, eh?
No, not the Connecticut women, although they're pretty darn special.
How was it? It was good, actually.
It’s the first time I’ve been at a CIS final in a long time and, overall, it was quite good and far better than the last one I was at. It was nice to see a lot of old friends and perhaps make some new ones and it never hurts to just be around to fly the flag.
But the game’s the thing, right?
What was it like?
Well, the calibre of play was good, the games were competitive, the skills were probably a bit better than I had expected.
And that’s all you want, right? Good games played by kids who care and are well-coached and supported by good fans.
I guarantee you the emotion I saw at the arena in Ottawa was as pure and as heartfelt as anything anyone saw in Buffalo on the weekend, for instance.
Now, did I see future pros in action? No, I didn’t. But I bet if I looked at the NCAA brackets really closely, I would be able to safely say I saw as many future NBAers at the tournament I covered than some guys would have at first-round NCAA sites.
But that’s not really the point, is it?
The point is, as I tried to make today in the newspaper, the game in Canada is getting better, the coaching is better (I think the officiating has ways to go to catch up) and that means everyone connected with the game wins.
I also think we need to write more about these kids and the programs and the teams. A one-off appearance was a good thing, I have to do a better job next season of doing more, there are lots of good stories out there that need to be told. Not game stories, per se, but stories about the people who play the game and the issues they face.
The thing I hear often when I suggest things like that – and this is from readers as much as it is from people in our industry – is that people don’t care.
Well, how do we know?
Do they not care because we don’t tell them? If we gave them more stories, would they care? It’s a chicken and egg thing in some regards and maybe it’s time we take the initiative and simply do it and see how everyone reacts.
This, my friends, is a dilemma.
I guess it has to be the hoops but, man, what I’d give to see Buzz Aldrin trip the light fantastic.
Or just trip.
Anyway, no early favourite, I’m afraid; got to check out the whole crew before starts.
Speaking of tonight, we will be here to dissect the mighty struggle in Minneapolis just before 8 p.m. but I’m afraid I can’t do questions and answers because I’ll be somewhere on the 401 motoring home at noon, I hope.
Sorry about that but we will do it Wednesday and Friday from the comfort of the Air Canada Centre.
Me? I’ll probably forgive him. Eventually.
But Super Son, who decided with Dear Old Dad to have Villanova make to the Final Four, might not be the biggest Alvin Williams fan in the world.
And since we had Kansas facing the Wildcats in championship game, I’m fearing our bracket is busted and the e-mail we get from The Biggest Syracuse Fan We Know (hi, David!) will probably have us far down the standings.
They should make gambling illegal.
I may not have been around the Heroes Of The Hardcourt this weekend but I have been around this machine and found this in the Minnesota paper to set up tonight’s game from a Minneapolis perspective.
Oh, and the pub across from the Target Center is Donovan’s and I’m a bit ticked I didn’t get there or to J.D. Hoyt’s for dinner. Next year, I guess.
Back to the CIS for a minute and I had an interesting conversation with Saskatchewan coach Greg Jockims about the game and the coaching gig and where it’s going.
He brought up a pretty good point about what trying to elevate the game to even more relevance among the general basketball population.
“Coaches are, I think, in a sense being pressured to get their programs up to high levels. There’s been a few guys released, and fired, and you see more and more of that, schools are putting more importance on having quality athletic programs which is good and bad.
“The positive is that events like this continue to grow, and the excitement level and he quality of play continues to grow but the pressure that puts on personnel, you have to be careful about firing people for not being competitive or winning, that’s not a positive thing, I don’t think.”
Generally, I’m told the level of coaching the CIS is quite good and it’s kind of refreshing to see young guys and former national team members like Greg Francis, head man at Alberta, and Randy Knorr, who’s on Kevin Hanson’s staff at UBC, in the ranks.
I think it’s going to be just as important for the coaching skills to improve and the talent pool to deepen than it is for the same thing to occur with the players.
Here’s something I didn’t know before Sunday night:
Scotiabank Place’s capacity is about 44,000.
Must be, they announced a crowd of 11,000 at the game and the joint was a quarter filled. Even by my stinky math skills, that works out, right?
One lasting image of the weekend?
Zany, green-clad Saskatchewan fans, which affirms a belief I had from covering a little bit of gridiron back in the day that there really is some level of support in that province that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the country.
I love Saskatchewanians – and if that’s not the right word, sorry; it’s the best I’ve got – because they care deeply. It was a hoot to see them.
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).