Toronto Raptors 114, Miami Heat 82

That’s Charles Barkley’s take on the Heat. It’s also what’s keeping Riley from jumping off the nearest bridge. In all the years of watching Riley coach, this is the first one where he seems calm and serene even when his team’s getting pounded to the tune of 40 points. Maybe it’s old age. Maybe he’s just resigned to the inevitability of watching his squad embarrass themselves on a nightly basis and willing to live with the legitimate excuse of injury. Either way, Pat Riley seems like he just doesn’t care anymore. From his point of view, signing Shaq to a ridiculous deal which has put a financial straight-jacket on club already paid off with a ring and that excuses the team to stink it up for the next three years. I’d take the deal if it was presented to me, let the Raptors win a championship this year and miss the playoffs for the next three years? I’d do it in a heartbeat.

Anyway, getting to the Raps. We could do no wrong, you can try hard and even then you won’t find a negative thing to say. The game was practically over with the Raptors up 30-8 which meant that TJ Ford could make his return pressure-free. TJ looked good out there, he was quick, showed great vision by laying a nice pass off to Kapono for a layup and then almost taking Humphries’ head of with a bullet pass that was right on the money. Any questions about his explosiveness were answered when he drove baseline and threw it down with authority. Apparently the man to thank for TJ being in-shape and in good spirits is ex-Cavalier coach John Lucas, who has been closely working with TJ for six hours a day. A side-note on John Lucas is that he’s a great communicator and relates to NBA players very well. Another side-note which allegedly got him fired from Cleveland was that the reason he was so well-liked was because he shares crack stories. Either way, I’m glad to have him working with the Raptors because whatever he’s doing with TJ is working. Forderon is back and no matter how some people spin it, that’s a great thing.

Going back to Pat Riley, he hates to even think that his team might’ve quit on him:

”I hate to even think those thoughts, I’ve been around 40 years, I’m proud of the road I’ve taken, and I don’t have any of that in me. I don’t care what anybody thinks. I’ve been good at making sure there isn’t any of that in my teams, either. We have to do some evaluation here.”

What’d you think of the first quarter Riles?

“Too quick, too efficient, too ready, too good. That was Toronto in the first quarter. An absolute clinic.”

Thanks, I agree. Duane Wade, any thoughts?

‘We [stunk] more the past couple of games than we have all season. Bad basketball. Terrible basketball. Maybe the season is getting away. I’m trying. I’ve said all I can say, doing all I can do. I’ve talked to guys. I don’t have the answers. I don’t know the formula.”

Sam Mitchell can’t believe his eyes:

“It would be hard for us to play much better”

We’ve seen the Raptors blow leads very often but after going up by 20 early there wasn’t even a remote chance that Miami could make a comeback. They just didnt’ have the personnel. We never let the intensity down on defense even when we were up by 30, call it lessons learned from past experiences. This is the closest thing to a perfect game that the Raptors have played this season. Our starters shot 69% with Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani and Anthony Parker having solid and effortless offensive performances. Chris Bosh’s facials on Alexander Johnson and Dorell Wright punctuated the dominance of the night and another smooth and unforced performance by Andrea Bargnani gave more weight to the argument that he’s out of his mid-season slide. Bargnani once again was one of the two top-scorers on the team, something we all expected to happen from the beginning of the year. Better late than never.

There’s a few obvious things that he’s doing that are helping his game and even though all the readers know this, it’s worth repeating:

  • He’s taking his time after catching the ball at the arc. There’s no immediate and rushed offensive move being made, he’s analyzing who’s playing him, how he’s being guarded and then making a decision.
  • When he catches the ball in a position of advantage, he immediately goes to work. That baseline reverse dunk was a prime example of that. Two weeks ago he would’ve caught that ball, allowed the defense to get set, and then jab-stepped a shot that was too hard.
  • He’s playing loosely. There’s not a tightness in his game, he appears more relaxed when receiving the ball after setting a screen and evaluates what the defense has put at his disposal. One might say he even looks athletic. As Jack Armstrong alluded to about fifteen times, he’s reduced his speed and his playing at a controlled pace.
  • He’s looking to setup his teammates. When a player is in a funk he generally focuses on just getting himself off. Bargnani’s court-awareness over the last few games has been exceptional, whether it be making an extra pass on the perimeter to zipping one in to the low-post, he’s looking to pass when there’s an advantage to be gained.
  • He’s hitting the mid-range jumper. More than the three, it’s the 18 footer that makes him dangerous. Threes are easy to defend because the defense can just crowd you, but once you put the doubt of the drive in the defender and hit the mid-range jumper then the defense is in a catch-22. I can’t explain how and why, but Bargnani’s starting to make that jumper, we’ll attribute it to confidence.

Feel free to add your own.

Let’s put things in perspective though, we’re not as good as we looked today and we’re not as bad as were against the Lakers. Somewhere in there is a middle ground which the Raptors need to find. We’re not going to shoot as well as we did today but we can play with the same amount of defensive intensity which will give us a chance against the better teams and more importantly, in the playoffs. Our rebounding problems were overcome by our hot shooting but it should be noted that Miami, the league’s worst rebounding team, outmanned us 37-31.

There’s no point celebrating a win over a depleted and sun-tanned Miami team too much. Let’s leave it at this: The Raptors didn’t play down to the level of their opposition, played with a high level of enthusiasm and intensity and never allowed Miami to gain any momentum. Offensively, we were brilliant, we moved the ball end-to-end, when they played zone, we broke it in half by driving the ball after quick passes and never game Miami a chance.

You’ve heard of a quarterback controversy, well now we have a PG “controversy”. Sorry to sound like a drama queen but Sam Mitchell will have a little trouble telling Jose Calderon that he’s coming off the bench again. Jose won’t mind and he’ll be a total professional but Sam will know that the “benching” is undeserved. Jose’s been awesome for us while TJ’s been out, he’s been hitting his jumper with machine-like accuracy and his jumper coming off a high-screen opens up many offensive options for us. I think there’ll be a transition period where you’ll see the Raptors struggle a little once TJ returns to the lineup, we just need to be patient during that time and allow TJ to learn the reigns once more. After all, a QB doesn’t lose his job to injury and neither does a PG.

We don’t play till Friday so there’s plenty of time to feel good about this one.

Liners:

* If I’m a Heat fan watching this game on Leage Pass, I’m thinking the Toronto announcers are a bunch of assholes by the way they were gloating about and bringing out all kinds of Italian dishes and sausages. Pretty classless I would think.

* How many time did Chuck say “It’s all good” today? 15? 20?

* Ricky Davis is so NOT a Riley-player. I was surprised when Riley acquired him and am even more shocked that he’s still in Miami.

* I’m not sure that even with Mourning, Shaq and Haslem healthy, the Heat are anymore than a 7th seed heading for a first-round exit. Wade is wasting some of the best years of his career, it’s a shame.

* Jamario Moon resisted the chance to shoot the ball which is always a good option. He’s best when he’s keyed in on defense and not even thinking about his offense. The ball he snatched away from Ricky Davis’ attempted pass was classic Moon.

* The way we beat the zone today was great to watch. Riley didn’t dare try it again.

* Parker and Bosh making fun of Delfino’s arm movement after he hits a three was hilarious.

* Ford’s return hopefully means that this is the last we see of Darrick Murray Martin.

* Anthony Parker is the Top Rap.

Till tomorrow.

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