Raptors and Wizards: Give Me More Of That

Let’s start by saying that last night’s game against the Washington Wizards was one of the most entertaining games of all time in Raptors history. It was the longest Raptors game in history, while the Raptors will be concerned about Terrence Ross and Kyle Lowry and how they came out of this marathon, it was tremendous. Ross left long before this game was over with a turned ankle. Lowry also tweaked an ankle but remained in and fought to the bitter end when he eventually fouled out of this game.

The Raptors were in a sense fighting an uphill battle most of the night. The Wizards last loss was the last time they faced the Raptors which was a hard fought contest that the Raptors would hang on to win.  After a rare strong start of a 7-0 run things would get difficult for the Raptors and they would eventually be fighting from behind for a good portion of this game in regulation.

Toronto would get behind by as much as 12 in the third quarter and with Ross already out and the Raptors struggling to keep their heads above water it seemed like it was not meant to be for them on this night. As in the game they won against the Wizards John Wall was proving to be quite the challenge to deal with. Overall the Raptors just looked like they did not have an answer this time around.

DeMar DeRozan would lead his crew all the way back to just 1 point down before the Wizards pushed back to make it a 5 point advantage heading to the fourth. What would go on for the next 27 minutes was a blow for blow battle that would rival any UFC fight. The Raptors had several chances to knock the Wizards out and steal a victory but could not get it done.

The lone issue the Raptors have faced in this post Rudy Gay era is who is going to be the closer for them in tight games. In a couple of games they have went to their All-Star DeMar DeRozan and had some terrible results so in this game they looked to Lowry and he too was unable to deal that knockout punch.

In the end the Raptors lost the battle in a game that took on a life of it’s own at some point. It still does not change my view that Wizards are the perfect team for the Raptors to face in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs and after last night there is a bunch of casual NBA fans that would welcome that series into their lives.

Toronto and Washington are in similar situations with limited playoff experience for their main stars. In fact next to none would be a more accurate statement. As the Raptors did with the Gay trade the Wizards were able to add some depth to their roster prior to the deadline. It showed in this epic war of attrition.

These teams have similarities being built around top level guards with Wall and Beal for the Wizards and DeRozan and Lowry for the Raptors. The Wizards when healthy have the better front court and should have an advantage on the glass. Raptors are the better defensive squad overall in comparison.

We may get to talk about all of this at length in April but I think the Raptors best and most exciting option for a series in the first round of the playoffs was and still is the Washington Wizards. Last night’s epic thriller at the ACC just made more people aware of the match-up and wanting to see it more.

The Raptors finished February with the same 7-5 record they sported last season it is about the only thing similar in comparing the two seasons to this point. Despite the outcome the Raptors should be able to win a series against the Wizards but as it was proven last night that will not be an easy task. Still the excitement and playoff atmosphere at the ACC gave you a taste of what a magical playoff series this could potentially be.

If you’re old enough to remember the epic Vince Carter vs. Allen Iverson battle in the seven game thriller with Sixers it could be that good. While the result of that series is well documented and known for a lot of things it to this day remains one of the best NBA Playoff series I have ever watched. It was thrilling and this new growing rivalry between the Wizards and Raptors could offer the same type of high drama. We can only hope it does at this point.


Raptors Need To Start Thinking About The Next Step

Back from my Olympics sabbatical where last week I seemed to be operating on very little sleep. Raptors still have Kyle Lowry and for the most part have been winning. They made a small move at the deadline of little significance. In fact surprise, surprise as I often tell you the deadline was underwhelming in general as it often is.

The temptation is too happy with the Raptors after all they are winning and have played some decent basketball since the All-Star Break. Still their starts to games have to be a source of concern. They have been slow out of the gate consistently. This might be able to be overcome in the regular season against teams of similar talent or less talent but will not fly in the playoffs.

This is really how we need to start evaluating this team to some extent. It would take an epic disaster at this point for the Raptors to not be in the post season. Where they fit in that playoff puzzle is still very much up for debate. They do look like the class of their Division though at this stage despite the Nets trying to make some improvements at the deadline. Point being you need to start looking at the things the Raptors are doing and ask yourself how that would translate to the playoffs.

Perhaps a little review on what playoff basketball is like is in order here. After all it has been awhile for all of us right? Playoff basketball is much more defensive in nature that is something I think almost everyone can agree on. The reason for this is you play the same team every night until someone has 4 wins and it is over.  That leads to another important thing that needs to happen is adjustments from game to game and even quarter to quarter. In this sense while the Raptors play in the first half of games has been poor they have made solid adjustments and played much better basketball in the second half when games are won and lost.

In addition the playoffs are a grind almost every possession. The concern here for the Raptors is there shot selection as relates to the three point shot. They need to understand when to be taking them and the situational impact of when they are taking them. As an example in one of the recent game Raptors were up 11 and it was mid-way through the fourth quarter. They decide to take a three with time left on the shot clock. First you need to use as much time as possible to protect your lead. Second when up double digits likely makes more sense to go inside and look for a higher percentage two than chucking up a three. They also need to understand when it is not your night shooting the three or when things have cooled off when it is. Think of it like going to a casino in which the odds are designed for you to lose. The three point shot is the same thing it is not designed for you to make more than you miss. So you need to understand that and realize the mentality of just keep shooting goes against logic. The smart player knows when to take the risk that is a three point shot and get the most out of it.

The greatest concern might be the play of the Raptors big men which has been fairly inconsistent and you see the toll of an NBA season taking hold on guys in a significant way. It has been pretty clear the type of team that causes the Raptors the most trouble. It is a team that has size and is physical especially on the glass. The Raptors lone loss came to a team fitting that description to the letter in the Chicago Bulls. They are perhaps the worst match-up for Toronto in the first round despite the two teams splitting the season series. A team that makes the best match-up is a team like Washington that is built in a very similar way to the Raptors but is a match-up that the Raptors have more overall talent to match-up.

In the end it is hard to fault Toronto for having a season in which they already have more wins than some would have thought they would have for the entire season. The Raptors have won 5 of their last 6 basketball games and while there has been some serious things lacking they still are getting the most important thing done by getting the result of wins. No one remembers how you do it but there is some signs on how you could fair in the playoffs on the next level .Those signs at the moment do not look as positive for the Raptors.

In past playoff series of recent memory against the Nets and Magic a lot of people saw the Raptors as the favourites in them. They would ultimately get exposed in both series and lose them in 6 and 5 games. This team the Raptors have could fall to the same type of fate if they get satisfied with just winning as crazy as that may sound. There is still a lot of room for improvement and the Raptors need to be aware and accepting of that fact.


This Week In Raptorland Is Back For An All Star Edition

The band is back for This Week In Raptorland. It has been a terrible year for doing the podcast. It is one of my bigger regrets about this season because I love doing it more than almost anything I do on here. But we're here today with a damn fine hour on how TSN treats basketball fans, The Raptors at the All Star Break and a lot of other great stuff. It has been awhile so in case you forgot along for the ride with me is John Chick basketball writer for the CBC.

If you want to read some more on the TSN issue I wrote this in the early hours of the morning which is I am not sure what time in Russia. Olympics are killing me slowly but in any case there is that and our interview with Jack Armstrong to check out.

Starting 5 with Jack Armstrong At The All Star Break

It has become a tradition at the ALL-STAR Break to catch up with our ALL-STAR guest the one and only Jack Armstrong. His thoughts on what has been a rather eventful first half of the Raptors season. The whole Kyle Lowry situation and what the Raptors should do? The emergence of DeMar DeRozan as an ALL-STAR and his continued development. Thoughts on second year players Jonas and Terrence and if they have reversed roles in terms of performance? How about the Raptors giving the line-up a shake up by adding Patrick Patterson to the starting 5? All of these topics are tackled and we get Jack's thoughts on an ALL-STAR Saturday Night that left a lot of people feeling pretty down on the product they saw. What will the Raptors do at the deadline? This is just some of the stuff we tackled it is 45 minutes with one of the best in business giving his honest and unique takes on the Toronto Raptors.

Hope you enjoyed and thanks to Jack for taking some of his free time on the ALL-STAR break with us here in the Dino Nation Blog. He is always a great guest and offers some informed and interesting opinions. I just do my best to come up with some questions that will get the best Jack Armstrong possible for all of you. It is a pretty easy day at the office when I am talking with Jack.

Opps TSN Did It Again.

Is it really 2011 all over again it seemed like it at the conclusion of last night’s NBA All-Star Game. Once again TSN cut bait and ran straight into Sportscentre without letting Canada in on who won the MVP. Could you imagine how furious people would have been if say DeMar DeRozan was in the running? He wasn’t but had an admirable first appearance in the game. That is a story for another day.

As loyal readers of the DNB might recall that event in 2011 was the genesis of a hashtag that trended on Twitter. (#TSNHatesBBALL) I am its creator and it was given a re-birth last night although I don’t think or know if it trended anywhere nor do I care. It did trend in Toronto on that night in 2011 though. TSN never responded to it in any way which makes sense, why would you, to such an irrational statement.

Did I literally mean that they hated basketball? Not really, I mean I have had Jack Armstrong who works there in this blog more than anyone. Last year I did a podcast with Josh Lewenberg who has moved on to bigger and better things and is covering the team now home and away. Josh was even at the All Star Weekend. I am happy and proud for him to have had such success. My feelings on Jack are well documented and he will be in the blog tomorrow talking about a variety of topics on the Raptors.

Here is the thing it is not the people at TSN that care about basketball that are the problem. In fact the people they have for basketball are pretty damn good with some exceptions. I think we all know who I think those are and I really don’t’ want this piece to be about that because it really isn’t the issue here.

TSN has if you haven’t noticed added a lot of basketball content. Most of it is shoved over to the secondary network TSN2 and this is where we start to see the issue.

See what TSN doesn’t want to accept or acknowledge is the way they are perceived by the basketball fan base in this country. Basketball fans feel that the network has treated them and the sport they love like a second class citizen. Which it is hard to make the argument they haven’t. All-Star Saturday Night as much as it was a disaster is a marquee event in the NBA. Was this on main TSN it would have to be right there was no hockey to stand in the way with Olympics going on in Russia? However no it was programmed to be on TSN2 and on the main network was NASCAR.  I am not going to bash fans of motor sports here but when you compare the two events one is more significant than the other.

Normally TSN would bury their heads in the sand to all of this stuff but they can’t afford to do that anymore. If you somehow missed the news(which with it being about hockey is next to impossible in this country) the NHL is leaving TSN. They will only have a selection of regional games and as such their programming schedule is filled with holes going forward.

So now the network that has made you feel that your sport was second class suddenly wants to embrace it. They already have started too with coverage of Kansas games and Andrew Wiggins. That hasn’t worked out as they likely thought with the Raptors success and the lack of a connection between them and Wiggins potentially in the draft.

There is no doubt that you will see more basketball on TSN than you ever have before. Not just NBA but likely more college hoops and who knows maybe even the Canadian Pro League fines some time on there the NBL.

What they have failed to realize or care about is how they have treated all of you and how you feel about them as a result. I have no doubt some of you legitimately feel they hate basketball. They don’t they just love hockey more as does Rogers as does a great many people in this country.

If the big bad wolf swears to you he isn’t going eat you are you going to believe him?  TSN has shown more respect to fans of the CFL than they have of the NBA. I love the CFL but I am not going to sit here and tell you that basketball in the NBA is not a bigger deal than the CFL. It is and it should be especially with so many young Canadians on their way to being part of the NBA.

Make no mistake that is part of all this too. The last thing I am going to do is tell you that the people at Bell or Rogers are stupid people. What I will tell you is they are people that have not seen the bigger picture of sports outside of the NHL with few exceptions. That is the biggest ratings draw and no one will dispute that. Still our friends in the United States find a way to balance sports coverage and not offend people who are fans of any particular sport. Wait a second the Americans are more inclusive than Canadians? This goes against all logic when you look at the two nations in any other context. But in terms of sports it is so true and so evident. Hockey over everything and if you don’t like it they don’t care because their ratings tell them not to care.

I am not going to shed a tear for the backlash TSN got for botching the All-Star Game yet again which by the way they have responded and said was an honest mistake this time. Which we are told too just be accepting and move on.  Well if we hadn’t been made to feel like the ugly redheaded step child of sports fans for years maybe they would have a point. The fact is that is how we have been treated and that is now their problem to solve.

There is no question that when the All-Star Game comes to Toronto you will see a display the likes you have never seen from TSN. It will all be so very hypocritical in nature. The fact is TSN is not getting the NHL back in a major way for a long time and it is their job now to try and fix a very broken and bitter relationship with basketball fans. Maybe they can do it, and maybe they can’t, but they ultimately are forced to try.

The truth is though at every little mistake they make people are going to be suspicious and not trust them. They have so richly earned that mistrust and deserve it.

In the end the progress is happening and it is miles from what it was in the past.  The amount of basketball we get to see in this country has increased by leaps and bounds. We just might not be the fans of who is providing it. The Score had the trust and belief that they cared about basketball. They didn’t have a lot else and ultimately with the creation of TSN2 and Sportnet One along with the purchase of MLSE they were dead as a T.V Station. The only thing they had is another ugly red headed step child called the WWE that TSN and Rogers wanted no part of. That was not enough to sustain a network. This is a lesson that even the WWE is learning with having to move their soon to be launching network to the internet.

I am not saying you have to like TSN or thank them for it. I feel they need to earn your trust and faith. Keep in mind though when that NHL Contract runs out in 12 years they will drop you like a bad habit if they can get that back.

As I tried to explain to someone on Twitter this is not something that will be fixed overnight or anytime soon. It will take a generation for people that have a different outlook on covering sports to be in power making the decisions. The people now are convinced that Hockey is the golden goose that will never die. So screw all the fans of anything else unless we actually have to be nice to them.

It’s play nice time for TSN because the Golden Goose has left the nest.


Raptors First Half Success Has Created New Questions To Be Answered

So we have reached the All-Star Break for the Toronto Raptors. I think it is safe to say that no one predicted where the Raptors find themselves at this point. They have out performed very low expectations that were at first validated by their performance with Rudy Gay as part of this franchise. The change from that trade has been dramatic and altered the outlook for this season and this team’s future dramatically. The debate of if this team should basically join the group of teams playing with the draft in mind died a fast death. What helped end that debate was the under performance of Nets and Knicks in the division.

Kyle Lowry at the time of the Gay trade was next person that was going to be moved. The Raptors basically were in the final stages of cutting a deal with the New York Knicks to move Lowry. In the end the Knicks got gun shy after having Masai Ujiri make them look bad in moves for Carmelo Anthony in Denver and the deal last summer for Andrea Bargnani. The Knicks now have renewed interest in Lowry who has played to an all-star level pretty much from the time the Gay trade was made. It is unlikely we see Lowry get moved at this point which becomes the Raptors new gamble. Instead of gambling on lottery balls they are gambling on Lowry. 

The first gamble is will Lowry even want to remain a Raptor. Sure on the surface all signs seem to suggest he would. History has taught us to be very wary of such things. Tracy McGrady, Chris Bosh and others during final seasons of contracts expressed a willingness to remain in Toronto only to wind up elsewhere at the end of the day.

Lowry is looking for that big contract that will secure his future as a person not a basketball player. He wants to earn the most he possibly can to secure his life beyond his playing days for his family’s future. People can talk all about being on a team that can win and have a chance to be contender but at the end of the day there is not going to be much of a discount for that for Kyle Lowry. Despite his all-star level play it would be highly unlikely this is a guy that is going to see that max offer that is afforded to those considered the NBA Elite.

So you than have to look at this performance and motivation behind that performance and wonder how much of this is about Kyle Lowry improving compared to his motivation to earn the most he possibly can. The Raptors were convinced that Jose Calderon was their future and paid him around 10 million a season. This proved to be a bad investment at the end of the day. The Raptors overpaid expecting the level of play of Calderon to continue to rise and develop and it really did not happen.  So even if the Raptors get Kyle Lowry signed to a deal there will still be questions going forward,if that deal is one that meets his expectations of a big payday, and what the market is likely to offer him.

All of this is important because Kyle Lowry really has been the driving force of this team and the change it has under gone. DeMar DeRozan is a big part of that as well but it is unlikely he would have been able to make this change happen without Lowry. DeRozan, to continue to build on his improvement needs Kyle Lowry, or a point guard of his level, style and ability.

Lowry situation aside this has been a breakout year for DeRozan heading to New Orleans as the Raptors first All-Star since Chris Bosh. His rise to being the Raptors best player has been much different from that of Chris Bosh. When Vince Carter was traded everyone fully expected Bosh to grow and develop into his replacement as the face of the Raptors franchise.

DeRozan has always had to face his critics and doubters even dating back to this past summer. Many were having the debate on which the Raptors should trade once Masai Ujiri took over. People were very critical of one of Bryan Colangelo’s last major decisions as the Raptors G.M by signing DeRozan to an extension that would see him average close to 10 million a season. That deal now looks like one that is a very reasonable contract for a player that is an All-Star in this league.

DeRozan has become a true leader for this team. His improvement speaks for itself. He now has proven to be capable of making a three point shot. It has opened up his game and has allowed him to take advantage of his mid-range skills and ability to drive the basketball. He still needs to improve his dribbling skills and his passing is improving and growing even from the start of the season.

But it is the intangibles of what DeRozan has been doing that has been the most impressive things to me. That anger and frustration of losing being channelled into ways that can help his team win. DeRozan has been scoring baskets when the Raptors need them most. He has been pulling his team together and been vocal when things are not going well. He is accepting and willing to take on the burden of being the guy every time that needs to put up 20 points or more a night for his team to have a chance to win.

DeRozan after winning a game against the Hawks had a smile that was so big and so genuine you couldn’t help but notice it. He has worked so hard to see this team get to a point of being a winner and a team heading to the playoffs. You have to just feel so happy for this young man because he has worked hard and earned this.

Terrence Ross was a major question mark heading into this season. He started the year much like how he performed in Summer League which was a disappointment.  Something happened once Rudy Gay was sent to the Kings and by default Terrence Ross became a starter. He took that opportunity and has run with it. He has been allowed to play through his struggles and plays with less fear that one mistake will be costly and find him on the bench.

He is without question a guy that when he gets hot can have a huge impact. That was on full display in his franchise record tying 51 point performance in a loss to the Clippers. He still has his issues with passing and at times can be brilliant defender and at others look terrible. That said, with added chance to have more time to work through things he has been able to answer the challenge.  Having a solid and consistent defender to insert if needed in John Salmons is something Dwane Casey always has in his back pocket if need be.

If there is a disappointment for the Raptors it has been the play of their big people as a group and of Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson in the starting line-up. At the start of the season no two players suffered more from the selfish play of Rudy Gay than Johnson and Jonas. After a bit of a surge from both after the trade they have fallen back dramatically.

Johnson has been suffering with injury and sat the last two games before the All-Star Break. Tyler Hans rough initially was offsetting some of this lack of performance at the start of the year. He than suffered an injury that kept him out of the line-up for a large portion of 2014 and has not come back with that same fire. He, in addition to that has been somewhat replaced in rotation by Patrick Patterson.

Johnson is a great guy and gives his all but it might make sense for the Raptors to add Patterson to the starting line-up and use Johnson as a reserve. Johnson is a guy that will do whatever it takes to see his team win and if that means playing in the second unit it is not going to impact on his effort.

What has been more of a worry is the play of Jonas Valanciunas which has been dramatically inconsistent. The Raptors really don’t have much in the way of options behind him. Chuck Hayes has done far more than anyone could have expected when he was acquired from the Kings. While that is great and you admire the effort of the undersized veteran in his play on defence, and his battling on the boards, it is not what the Raptors want ideally.

Jonas has had his issues defensively and his offensive game has been to say the least erratic. Heading down the stretch the Raptors will be hoping to see the guy that has shown glimpses of being a cornerstone at the position for years to come. It is kind of ironic that he has almost had an opposite journey in comparison to Terrence Ross with both in their second season. Jonas was the talk of Las Vegas Summer League and was the MVP of the league for his play. He entered the season with a lot of expectations and he really hasn’t lived up to them. Yet he is the guy that will be playing Friday in the Rookie/Sophomore game at all-star weekend. Ross will not be in that game but defending his Dunk title from a year ago on Saturday.

The Raptors have gotten a lot from the players that came back in Rudy Gay trade. The Raptors did lose both Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray in the deal as well. That said, they were not really big parts of the Raptors rotation. While all the players that came from the Kings have been a huge part of giving the Raptors a bench that they were sorely lacking prior to the trade.

 In a touch of Irony, Vasquez, who at the time of the trade was thought to be the most interest piece coming back has been perhaps the most underwhelming. Patterson as mentioned has been the biggest contributor and has really been big for the Raptors in some games and been a big difference between winning and losing. Salmons and Hayes have been helpful in trying to keep this defensive system working. Raptors defensive play has been concerning of late and really has not been to the level it was the month to six weeks after the Rudy Gay trade.

As happy and unexpected as this Raptors season has been there are signs of this team not playing as well as it did in that stretch after the trade. There is also a lot of concern for the future of this group beyond this season and that goes back to the whole Lowry situation. The Raptors hold all the cards on everyone else that matters. The problem is that Lowry is the wild card in this whole collection that makes it all work. It is hard to figure out what the Raptors would do as plan B without him going into next season. What is even harder to predict, is if he stays, if he will maintain this level of play?

I’ve seen the Raptors make the playoffs. I have seen the Raptors make it to the second round. What I haven’t seen is the Raptors have a team that grows into a consistent contender in the Eastern Conference. While many are excited about the prospect of the Raptors returning to the playoffs I am not among them. I am happy for the guys that have worked hard for this for them like DeRozan and Johnson. Still for me it is about that larger picture and this being able to be maintained.

The reality is the East may have hit rock bottom and never be this bad ever again. A draft class that his filled with talent that at the start of the year was the focus for many on how the Raptors would rebuild into contender, will now be finding homes with other teams in the Eastern Conference. A couple of those being Canadians as well which on some level is disappointing that they will not be Raptors anytime soon.

The Raptors have fooled us a few times in their history into believing the future for this franchise was bright. This has all the feelings of those times and has the potential to have the same disappointing results. That is not what anyone wants to hear right now but it is in fact the case even if you don’t want to see it.

The major difference from the past is the people running the show. Tim Lieweke and Masai Ujiri both are guys that have some reason to have earned some respect. That said they face the same challenges that other smart people the Raptors have had guiding this ship have faced. It is easy to tear apart what Glen Grunwald and later Bryan Colangelo tried to do with the benefit of retrospect. They at the time when the Raptors were riding high had just has much faith and hope invested in them. The challenge for Masai and Lieweke is to reward fans for that faith and hope where others in the past have failed. It will not be easy to do that and if you think it will be than perhaps you need to lay off the kool-aid that is in huge supply with the Raptors unexpected rise this season.

It really comes down to if you are satisfied with this team just being decent or having a higher goal in mind of contending for championships. If the goal is to be one of the teams to in hunt to win a title the Raptors are still very far from that with lots of roadblocks and questions to be answered for that to be realistic. 


Raptors Need To Focus On Two Games Left Before All-Star Fun

Raptors return home after taking it on the chin against the Clippers. Not to the extent the Sixers took it on the chin last night but it was still a loss at the end of the day. After a promising start to their west coast trip the Raptors struggled and ended up 2-3 as they return home to face the Pelicans for the first time.

Anthony Davis should provide quite the challenge not unlike the Raptors faced in their last two games. DeMarcus Cousins tore the Raptors apart which was lost in the fury over a blown call in the game with the Kings. While Raptors at one point gave up trying to play on defensive end and resorted to fouling Jordan with limited success in the third quarter. It was to say the least a little embarrassing to watch.

The Raptors really need to get a couple wins and enter the All-Star break with some kind of momentum in a positive way. Home games tonight with Pelicans and on Wednesday with Atlanta should be games the Raptors expect to win.

The Raptors have struggled on the defensive end and got away from the great defensive play that had been the driving force behind their turnaround. It would be fairly easy for the Raptors to lose focus with DeRozan heading to his first all-star game and Jonas off to All Star Weekend for the first time and Terrence Ross defending his Dunk Contest title.

The All-Star weekend will be some recognition for their play as a whole this season Kyle Lowry wasn’t invited to the party but it still is a weekend where the Raptors will be more represented than almost any other year. Involved in events on all three nights of the weekend for only the second time I believe.

Still all of this is nice but the Raptors must remain focused on the stuff that matters and sorry to inform you Terrence Ross defending a Slam Dunk title is not it. The Raptors sit just 2 games above .500 despite being third in the Eastern Conference just a half game in front of the Hawks who they will host on Wednesday. The Brooklyn Nets are only 2 and half games back in the Division behind the Raptors and will be pushing hard to catch them.  

Soon after al the All-Star fun will be the trade deadline and the Raptors who at the start of the year would have been considered sellers may actually be buyers now looking to add something to get them to move away from the back in the East. Thoughts of trading Kyle Lowry have seemed to all but be forgotten. The Raptors have given every indication they are in it to win it.

If they failed to win these two games prior to the All-Star break and entered the break at just .500 with 32 games to play at 25-25. The difference a couple wins could make would make things look a lot better. The last time the Raptors saw themselves is a similar situation they decided to keep their All-Star Chris Bosh and he would be injured the game after that All-Star break and be out several weeks only to be injured again with a broken nose and the Raptors once secure playoff spot was gone.

The East is a lot worse than it was back in 2010 but the Raptors falling to the bottom of the playoff field would make the idea of them going all in for the playoffs seem rather silly. Kyle Lowry recently has had some knee issues and his missing All-Star Weekend might be a blessing in disguise for the Raptors.


Raptors Should Look In Mirror Before Blaming Someone Else

Last night was for everyone frustrating with the Raptors performance against the Sacramento Kings. The call at the end of the game has become the narrative of this game which it really should not be. It is not about the call itself and if it was the correct call. It was not no one is debating that fact. Although the technical as a result of the call was 100% the right call from the letter of the law in the NBA.

The Raptors played terrible in this basketball game for somewhere around 38 to 40 minutes of it. That is not what anyone is talking about and it should be. The fact the Raptors defensive play has been suffering for weeks now regardless of the results they have been achieving in terms of wins and loses.

Raptors fans have become so paranoid with refs and it might not be completely their fault. The NBA itself has in the past gone on the record and said that calls had been blown in games involving the Raptors. Some even worse than last night where it literally was the difference between winning and losing.

Here is the thing though you can act like a victim and just take it and continue to cry foul. I see it in a different way where good teams overcome any adversity whatever it is. I also get completely frustrated by the fact the Raptors poor effort put them in the position for them to be impacted on so greatly by a call of a referee at the end of the day.

Another thing that was lost in the anger over the call that didn’t go the Raptors way was the play of DeMarcus Cousins. The Raptors got flat out beat down by this young man. He dove into the scorers table going for a ball. That summed up his effort level and his team’s for the majority of the night. The Raptors played hard for the last 8 or so minutes of the final quarter.

Sometimes in life you get what you deserve at the end of the day. This is not to say a ref blowing a call is right but it is karma to some extent. The Raptors did not give their best effort for the majority of the game. That at the end of the day is why they lost the game ultimately in my mind.

I spend close to an hour on Twitter expressing my opinion on all of this and it was met with a ton of negative reaction to it. I think people know by this point I think what I do about things and I am not very likely to change my mind. You can respect that or choose not too. I just believe strongly that Raptors fans are using this bad call as a way to excuse the poor play in this game. It is much easier to blame the ref than have that look in the mirror moment and say these guys we root for didn’t give us their “A” level effort on this night.

The Raptors are having some success this year and the excuses of the past are not going to fly anymore. What also isn’t going to fly is the way the Raptors are playing of late in the playoffs. That is in games they are winning and losing of late.


Raptors Face The Team That Changed Their Season

Raptors head into Sacramento to meet the team that has perhaps had the greatest impact on their season without having played them. The trade for Rudy Gay was a season altering turnaround the likes of which we have rarely seen with Raptors or in sports in general. Kyle Lowry left the game against the Jazz with a sore knee and his status for this game will impact on it greatly. Lowry was named the Eastern Conference Player of the week. A nice nod for the Raptors point guard who has had a very successful run of late. It also is some validation for the many that see him as the most glaring omission to the All-Star rosters.

The Raptors will face off against Rudy Gay for the first time since he left. While the Raptors season has had a turn of fortune since he left so as Gay’s individual season. The differences are just as dramatic as the Raptors transformation. The biggest difference is in field goal percentage as a Raptor Gay was shooting 38.8% from the field. In 25 games with Kings he is shooting 53% and averaging 2.3 more points per game. That lack of efficiency was part of what was killing the Raptors. Also of not Gay’s average attempts are down since going to the Kings. He was getting labelled as a ball hog for his selfish play in Toronto.

Only Rudy Gay knows if he really wanted to be in Toronto and be part of the Raptors. I can only from my own observations that I never felt that he was all that connected to Toronto. I think he was with his team and the guys in the locker room. But I never got the sense he felt like he wanted to be here. Sure he said all the right things but it just lacked the sincerity to it all.

Which natural leads to the transition to how much sincerity is there in Kyle Lowry’s desire to remain in Toronto? Gay and Lowry are close and Kyle made Gay his child’s Godfather based on the bond they built in Memphis.

Kyle Lowry is much harder to read than Rudy Gay. While Gay seems perfectly fine with being the center of attention with Media the same can not be said for Kyle Lowry. He will talk with media no doubt but always has an edge to him and that chip on his shoulder that makes him a great player on the floor is evident off the floor as well in dealing with the media.

Personally I have never cared if guys are nice people and easy to work with as far as the media goes. It is always nice to have a guy like Amir Johnson or DeMar DeRozan that is friendly and pretty enjoyable to deal with. However it really doesn’t matter at the end of the day it is about how you perform on the floor. It may cost you some things in terms of how you are covered and how people will view you but if you perform and get the job done that is what counts.

Lowry has done that in spades since the departure of Gay. Nothing was going to distract him from his own goals of earning a contract for next season. Some thought Gay leaving maybe Lowry would be next and his less than friendly demeanour would get even worse. I am not sure if Kyle Lowry is anymore friendly based on all of this but his play has not suffered one bit by Gay leaving. In fact he has been able to showcase his skill set even more without Gay in the Raptors line-up.

There is also all the guys Sacramento sent packing as part of this trade. Patrick Patterson has been the standout of this group since the big trade. At the time of the trade many felt it would be Greivous Vasquez but that has failed to materialize and in fact you could argue he has been the biggest disappointment of the four guys that Raptors acquired. Ironically enough he could very well be the starter against his former club if Lowry is unable to go. Even if Lowry is the Raptors may want to limit his minutes some giving Vasquez an opportunity.

The Kings without Gay and with him have been a bad basketball team with 16-38 record they are slightly improved with Gay at 11-19 since the trade. The Raptors in that same time since the trade are an impressive 19-10.

We saw the Raptors win in Denver for the first time in a decade on this road trip. Well Sacramento has its own ugly history for the Raptors. They are 2-14 all time and losers of 5 of their last 6 in the capitol of California. Pretty brutal considering the Kings haven’t been a great team for last 6 years.  Big reason in the last few years has been DeMarcus Cousins who has had some of his best performances in the NBA against the Raptors despite a really troubled career overall at times.

So will see how it plays out at the sleep train arena which is not a great name for an arena on the west coast having to stay up so late to tune in. The excitement of these two teams meeting for the first time since the trade should be enough to motivate Raptors fans to stay awake. The fact with all the snow back here at home might allow people to sleep in as they will be tapped in their homes by Mother Nature.


Raptors Are Learning, Growing and Changing Their Identity?

The Raptors are in the midst of a west coast swing which has always been a problem over the years. So far not so much for these Raptors as they walked into Denver and won for first time in a decade which will get your attention.  The last time they had both Chris Bosh and Vince Carter were on the roster. The next night in Portland started much more like the Raptors history on the west coast. They came out looking tired and drained and looked to be on the way to taking a pretty solid butt kicking. These Raptors were not going go out like that though. After trailing by 17 in the third they would make a furious rally that would come up short.

While most will point to newly minted All-Star DeMar DeRozan bouncing the ball off his foot with 5 seconds to go as the reason for the loss their were in fact a few mistakes down the stretch. The cool thing about that loss is a lot of Raptors fans were not satisfied with the plucky comeback effort. The idea of moral victories might be coming to an end. This team now has an expectation level to meet every night.

Raptors look to get back on the winning track tonight in Utah who has the second worst record in the west tied with the Lakers at 16-31. The Raptors were of a similar record at this time last year. Raptors looked like a team with their tank on empty in Portland but with a couple days off it are safe to expect a much better effort tonight.

The Raptors defence has not been as consistent as it was in the early days after the Rudy Gay trade. It seems to be something that Raptors have to be backed into a corner to play well of late. They have proven they are capable of being a good defensive team but need to show it for the full game.

The Raptors should be heading to playoffs with little question at this point. It now becomes about them preparing for that eventuality. Can they hold off the Nets and make their playoff path easier? Will they start to adapt their offensive and defensive attack to prepare for playoff style basketball?

I have some major concerns about their offence heading into the post-season. They on many nights seem to be obsessed with the three point shot regardless of if they are having success with it. They don’t seem to be doing the more traditional way that you use the three point shot by building from the inside and than going to the outside. This is not something that I feel you can get away with in the post-season.

The Portland game was a good example of how the playoffs can be. Those last possessions where so much seemed on the line on every possession are how the playoffs are played for 48 minutes. The Raptors need to learn these lessons in the next two and half months to be ready for the playoffs. It takes more effort to win any playoff game than it does any regular season game. It also takes being able to adapt as teams will study you and force you into doing different things and making adjustments.

So while it is true that moral victories should no longer be accepted for this team. What is acceptable and quite welcomed is learning experiences along the way and the Raptors had one of those in Portland. The next time the Raptors find themselves in a tough situation will they have learned from it?

If the Raptors miss anything about Rudy Gay it is his presence at the end of games. It was clear when he was here who was getting the ball with game on the line and was willing to take the shot with everything on the line. That is not as defined now for the Raptors as you would like to say that should be DeRozan but his dribbling skills that are below average for the highest level of the NBA give you cause for concern. Kyle Lowry seems like a likely choice as an alternate option. Lowry has made a lot of big shots for this team with in the body of games. He seems to have more of the mentality to be the guy that would embrace that challenge of having it all on his shoulders. DeMar is getting there in that regard but for now maybe Lowry is better suited for this.

DeRozan already has a lot on his shoulders as it is. He is really starting to show leadership qualities that we have wanted to see from him for years. He has grown into that role of being a leader and taking on the responsibility for making sure this team stays motivated to win.

The Raptors are without question a different animal than they have been in the past. In some ways better than even the best Raptors teams in history. In other ways they are far behind them in some respects. On the road this team has proven to be unique in Raptors history with a winning record.  They have a legit chance to have a winning road record for first time in club history. How they are playing in places they haven’t won in long periods of time is a good example of how that has changed.

If you are able to look at this team in the microcosm of this individual season they are a fun group to watch. The uncertain future will be decided in July at the end of the day. I have 100% confidence that Masai Ujiri is rolling the dice with Kyle Lowry and will not move him at the deadline. He is hoping that roll is a 7 like the number his star point guard wears. Raptors have never been the luckiest team in terms of that game. They have hit snake eyes on a lot of gambles they have taken over the years.