It’s finally here, opening night. Raptors and 76ers from Philly starting at 6PM EST tonight to tip-off our 14th season. The game is a tough one. Home openers are hard to win as a road team but Philadelphia has lost 3 of their last 4 which should give the Raptors some hope. An early divisional game against the team that most are picking to finish above you – is there any better an opportunity to send a message? I think not. A road win here and not a single soul will remember the bad preseason.
There’s some unpleasantness and reality we need to get out of the way and it comes from Bill Simmons. He’s not liking the Jermaine O’Neal trade for the Raptors because he can’t find an example in NBA history where a power forward who struggled as bad as O’Neal did over the last few years came back to revive his career. Unfortunately, he’s right except the list that he points to include players like Antoine Walker, Ben Wallace, George McGinnis, Spencer Haywood who are far less talented than Jermaine O’Neal. Not to mention most of the guys he’s mentioning were well past their NBA primes unlike O’Neal who just turned 30 two weeks ago. I see Bill’s point but I don’t think that rationale applies here. Also, I’ve really started to dislike him since his teams stopped sucking and started winning.
Sam Mitchell spoke with the media after yesterday’s practice and revealed that Jamario Moon will start at small forward tonight (big surprise). It’s very telling of our small forward situation that a player can play as bad as Moon has and still make the head coach’s decision about who gets to start very easy in his favor. Apart from that little tidbit Sam’s just screwing around with the media and their unthoughtful questions. One thing he did say is that “This team will always play hard, we know that” That’s the first thing I’ll be looking for this season in every game. The Toronto media basically spawns articles of Sam’s post-game interviews and here’s an example of Dave Feschuk’s take on things. Nothing new, he’s basically saying an awful lot of things have to go right for the Raptors to win a playoff round.
Jermaine O’Neal’s not placing Philadelphia ahead of the Raptors and feels that the Raptors will be the better team on the court on most nights. He’s also regretting not playing enough minutes in the preseason but still feels fit and confident that he was able to make good worth of it. I think O’Neal’s mental state is the best its been for years and he’s looking to prove people wrong and play with a chip on his shoulder. A motivated player is a player I’d take on my roster any day and I think barring injury O’Neal’s going to surprise many people including Simmons.
Enthusiasm in the Philadelphia camp is equal to if not higher than the Raptors and for good reason, they’re a well round athletic team with a great nucleus that’s on the cusp of contention and the organization believes in Brand. They’re not however without their flaws. Their second unit struggles to score just like ours since there isn’t a single double-team threat on there and if the Raptors bench can hold their own defensively they can come out even and leave the game up to the starters to decide. Actually, that’s going to be the formula on both nights for us – hide our bench weakness, exploit our starting strength. We make a big deal about O’Neal’s injury history but remember that Brand only played 8 games last year because of a bad Achilles tendon. He’s an injury risk for them just like O’Neal is for us. People are falling in love with Philly because of the second half of last season and the acquisition of Brand but let’s not forget that we finished above this team last year and have added similar talent in the summer. Yes, they’re more athletic than us but that doesn’t mean they’re not overrrated by most “pundits”.
According to this Philadelphia blog the 76ers’ practice on Tuesday was the best of their preseason. It also says that Thaddeus Young, Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, and Sam Dalembert will form their starting lineup.
The nut-hugger Reggie Evans happens to be a guy who I wanted the Raptors to acquire on last year’s trade deadline when he was available during the Sixers’ struggle. He’s always been a factor when we play them and I wouldn’t doubt it if he comes out with 13 boards when its all said and done. It’ll be Bargnani and Humphries’ responsibility to keep him off the second-unit glass and I’m sure he’s going to provide them a good early challenge. I think we’ll see just how much better Bargnani’s rebounding is after this game. Royal Ivey is serving the second of a three game suspension for punching Aaron Gray when he was with the Bucks last year. On the Raptors side everyone’s good enough to play with the exception of Nathan Jawai. Moon, Kapono and Adams are a little banged up but nothing so serious that they’ll miss the game.
There’s also a little quote from Bryan Colangelo which says that if the Raptors find the need for a particular player in the stretch run, he’s open to recommending to the board that they pay the luxury tax.
We’ve added a little twist to your pre-game cocktail this season. Introducing the Opening Tip, a RaptorsRepublic.com exclusive. It’s a game-day PDF that guarantees to give some, umm…insight you can’t find anywhere else. Yes, “insight”. That’s what we’ll call it.
Inside every Opening Tip:
- Stay up to date with internet chat forum gossip about players love lives in the section “Girl Talk”.
- Get some heckle hints in “3 Things To Scream If You’re Going to the Game” – if you’re lucky, Andre Blatche will hit you with a warmup towel!
- “Last Encounter” rewinds to the last time the teams played.
- “New Faces” introduces you to the off-season acquisitions of our opponent, big and small.
- “Fun Facts” is just that, facts we deemed fun. For example, did you know Brian Scalabrine was the inspiration for the movie “Powder”?
Dinosty’s going to be throwing this together for you before every game, so be sure to check it out. Download it, print it off, read it on the toilet, the subway, your lunch break, during “So You Think You Can Dance”, in between parole hearings…just a little something for you to take away on gameday.
To get the inaugural Opening Tip for tonight’s game against Philly, click HERE (Right click and Save As.. to download to your computer).
And remember, coverage of the game starts at 5:45PM EST right here on RaptorsRepublic.com.
Just a quick note, I hope to be talking to Tim Chisholm, basketball writer for TSN.ca a little later on in the day and if things go well will post the interview in the afternoon.
Let’s go you Raps!