Kyrie Irving

It’s time to step up and be men.
It’s time to show some pride.
It’s time for heart and character to shine through.

Dramatic I know, but the chips are down, and these are the moments that separate the men from the boys. When everyone is healthy and the shots are falling, it is easy to win games. Unfortunately for the Raptors, nothing has come easy this season. Their early-season success aside (which wasn’t easy btw), they have fought tooth-n-nail for every win they got. The losses…not so much.O’Neal’s knee apparently is fine, swollen ankles seem to be more pressing at the moment. All he needs is some TLC. I’m sure Colangelo is on his knees, between his legs… praying to his Gucci-god for a quick recovery. The Raptors might be better served if he sits out the next two games, and comes back for the Lakers. At least against the Bobcats, I have to think sans O’Neal, the Raptors should be able to beat the Bobcats.

The key will be coming out motivated and possessed from the opening tip. Fortunately they have a few things to motivate them heading into the game:

1. The loss to Jersey
2. The loss to Boston
3. and Bosh…

I fully expect Bosh to come out like a man possessed. Would be very surprised if he didn’t put up a monster 1st quarter. Especially after his sucky-baby in-game antics against the Celtics. I understand where he’s coming from, frustration…we all get that way from time to time. But for Bosh to not go into a huddle (even though a whole lot doesn’t happen in the Raptors huddle), and do his own thing is…weak.

Can you imagine Kevin Garnett doing that? In fact, did Garnett ever do that during those horrible seasons in Minnesota? I can’t remember one instance. For crying out loud, Vince never even did that. Sure he would sulk during the game, but he never isolated himself during a timeout-huddle. Not what a leader does, which adds fuel to my fire that he isn’t the kind of player that a championship team is built around, he’s the Pippen, straight up. Desire to win is one thing, but loyalty to your teammates is crucial as a the team leader/franchise player. If he needs some assistance, I have the perfect idea for Mr. Bosh.

Forgive me, but at the time of writing this, neither the Raptors nor Bobcats starting lineups were published, with some interesting lineup possibilities for both teams, so I am going to break things down a bit differently:

Backcourt

Calderon / Parker vs. Augustin / Felton / Richardson
The Edge: Raptors
– There was some talk about starting Augustin/Felton together, moving Richardson to 3, but regardless, we will see 2 of these 3 play the 1/2 for a big portion of the game. Probably the only bright spot for Larry Brown is his PG situation. Augustin and Felton have been playing great. Their shooting, penetration and distribution has been superb. The two of them were the cog in the engine that beat Philly two nights ago. Both these guys will give Calderon a run for his money. They are both quick, shoot the ball well and will penetrate at will on JC.

Cadleron and Parker have played well, but not great. Calderon is clearly banged up some, the degree of which is unknown at the moment. Parker on the other hand, not playing good at all. It hurts me to say it and it hurts you to hear it. Yes he has hit some big shots the last few games, maybe even clutch, but his missed free throw down the stretch cost the Raptors the game against Jersey. Allen LIT him up in the first quarter, and continued to get clean/open looks when he doubled off on the strong side. He did do a pretty good on Richardson last game, and should do a similar job this one. If matched up against one of the PGs, I expect he will probably defend them better. He’s the best wing defender the Raptors have, and is tall enough to keep them off the boards and quick enough to keep up with the young bucks off the bounce.

Frontcourt

Bosh / Bargnani / Humphries / *O’Neal vs Wallace / Okafur / Dudley
The Edge: Raptors – With our without O’Neal, the Raptors front court will own the Bobcats. The Bobcats are so desperate for some size, they are dangling Richardson to the Clippers for Kaman, doubt the Clippers bite. Bosh should have a monster double-double, Bargnani will have another solid game (maybe 20/8), and Hump should get some serious burn, maybe 23 minutes. I can live with his forced offense when he gets the ball, if he contributes rebounds, low post defense, and knocks someone on their ass.

Coaching

Mitchell vs Brown
The Edge: Bobcats
– Say what you want about Brown, but the guy is an NBA champion, and one of the winningness coaches in the league. He outclasses Smitch in X’s & O’s, in game adjustments, strategy, wisdom and experience. The only thing Smitch has his number in is style and post-game entertainment.

Sadly, coaching alone can beat the Raptors. Lawrence Frank, though he has Carter and Harris, was able to divine a win with strategy, match-ups and a motivated Carter, which in itself is an accomplishment.

X-Factor(s)

Solomon, Kapono and Moon. These guys need to have good games. Uninspired comes to mind in describing their last few performances. I just have one piece of advice for Solomon: when you want to pass the ball, don’t jump. Simple really. No jump passes. Only Nash can do that, not you buddy. I can live with your offensive game if you just control yourself when running the offense. Nothing fancy, pass with two hands from your chest, makes things easier.

Kapono got zero shots last game. Zero. I can live with him forcing and missing a couple treys if it means he gets a shot off. He needs zero seconds to get a shot off, but I have to believe if I was in the NBA, I would get up more attempts. To his credit, he has a plan as to what to do about the recent funk:

Sadly, none of the  things he lists that need to be done are things he does, or shows a willingness to do. Hopefully he walks the walk now…

Moon on the other hand isn’t playing badly, just not like someone who is in a contract year. Normally the way he’s been cruising comes AFTER getting paid. Dude has cost himself a couple mill over the life of the contract. There is time for redemption, but I wont hold my breath. I just hope he doesn’t go for many of Wallace’s pump fakes in the block. Note to Moon: Wallace has hops too, you wont be able to swat every time, just stay in front of the dude and good things will happen.

Prediction

The Raptors. For all it’s worth, the Bobcats are a team managed by someone far more inept then the Raptors are, and don’t have any sort of semblage of a team that has any designs on post-season success. That being said, they have a bunch of players who can light it up, and win games against good teams (did you catch them grind out a win against the Sixers?). This is nothing more then a gut feeling, and my gut feelings have my Raptor predictions at 10-3 this season, but Raptors by 9 after leading by as many as 17.

Grab the Opening-Tip here.