Step 1: Don’t get killed. Step 2: Stay close till the 4th. Step 3: Give ball to Bosh.

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It’s the Lakers tonight and Jermaine O’Neal is ready to play. Is he 100%? I don’t know but if he’s not then he should sit. The last thing anybody wants is aggravating an injury and a player playing with a ready-made excuse to not play well. No offense to O’Neal or Calderon but if they’re playing with bad knees and bad hammys, respectively, we should just sit them down until they’re 100% ready. Realistically speaking it hardly matters whether he suits up because the Lakers are just too good for us to even have an outside shot at this game even if we had Nathan Jawai dressed. They’re 12.5 point favorites and when Vegas has you down, you’re almost out before the game even starts. But hey, weirder things have happened and we’ve known to beat a team that was expected to crush us in the past (San Antonio last year).

This space has been preaching team defense for a while and after the two home wins against Charlotte and Atlanta, Jermaine O’Neal’s cautiously optimistic about the improved defense:

“Really, I think guys were just getting a little embarrassed. I don’t want to be premature and say we’re over the hump, but the guys are really taking the challenge. You see guys are looking at the scouting reports a lot more before games and that’s the great character of our team. Obviously, we know we’ve been getting killed on the defensive part of the floor. Now guys are talking more about it even in general conversation among players, not necessarily only in meetings. That’s a good sign.”

Yes, I know Charlotte and Atlanta aren’t exactly great teams but measuring defensive effort and game preparation has nothing to do with who you’re playing. It’s one of those things that should be part of your routine and if we got it in there, great. The surprising part about that quote is that I get the feeling that we’re just now starting to pay real attention to the scouting reports, that’s the only way one can explain how we played Harris and Rondo. Add this to the recent revelation by Jason Kapono that there were a few sets added to the offense to get him shots and I’m starting to think Sam Mitchell might be finally earning his money. Let’s see how he handles Kobe today, I’m thinking the way to go is get the ball out of hands by doubling him and make sure your rotations are tight. The “Let Kobe get his and shutdown everyone else” doesn’t work because we’re just not good enough to shutdown more than one or two players any given night, if that. Start at the root cause and go from there.

We have to stay in this game past the first quarter. It would be depressing if we’re down 16 or 17 in the second because they got enough firepower to maintain that lead and we don’t have nearly enough to come back from a deficit like that. To ensure that we get a good start we have to come out and get to the FT line, make early shots and most importantly, slow the game down. Playing defense is a given. We can’t get into a running open-court game here, they happen be much better at that than us and our best bet is to grind it out in the half-court, pick up fouls on Bynum, slow down Kobe and hope Lamar is contained through single-coverage. If we do everything right we’ll be in this game in the fourth and that’s when you rely on Bosh to pull you through.

Bryan Colangelo says to newly hired Leaf GM, Pat Burke, that he has all the autonomy he needs to run the club. Burke phoned Colangelo before signing to make sure he has the power necessary to take the Leafs from a shit team to an even shittier team. Good luck to him. Obviously “autonomy” here doesn’t mean he’s got the right to sign whoever he wants since the luxury tax is a big impediment, to cross that he needs to get past the board and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Richard Peddie. The ESPN Mag article from yesterday hinted at Colangelo pursuing “roster upgrades” and he’s believed to like Shawn Marion and Leandro Barbosa but doesn’t have what it takes to get them here (see, he traded all those assets to get O’Neal). Instead we’re looking at second-tier help in Boris Diaw, Andres Nocioni and Gerald Wallace. Yes to Diaw, hell no to Andres and whatever to Gerald Wallace.

Dave Feschuk is doing some great investigative reporting by sneaking into players’ hotel rooms and testing whether the flush works properly. He’s talking about the luxury hotels the players get to stay in and contrasting it with the past and what happens in Europe. Roko crawled from underneath his bed and chipped in with his two cents:

“We stayed in some bad places. It just was terrible, terrible. You cannot imagine. No TV. Cockroaches. No curtains on the windows, so you wake up at 5 a.m. …”

There, there Roko. No more wll you have to suffer through that. It’s all mineral water and wine from here on out. Just learn to stick a few jumpers and you’ll be having caviar for breakfast for the rest of your life. It’s a good article if you want to feel poor. I’m looking forward to Feschuk’s next piece titled, “NBA Hos”.

Doug Smith is saying that the Raptors do as much a scouting in North American as any other team. Why do I have a hard time believing that? The last North American we picked up from the draft in the Colangelo era was P.J Tucker in 2006 and that was in the second round. The 2008 draft was considered as deep as ever and even then we managed to reach across the oceans to pick a heart patient. Sorry, we don’t pay nearly as much attention to NCAA players as we should, if we did we would’ve made use of the 17th pick in a draft everybody was looking to be a part of.

Here’s a video of Leo and Devlin on a bus in LA. Notice how Leo’s talking on the phone in the beginning of the video, the pompous prick really does sound like an ass. I didn’t watch past that. Kobe might not score 81 on us tonight but he could reach another milestone.

Optimistic prediction: W 98-94. Pessimistic prediction: L 123-85. Realistic prediction: L 113-95. Let’s go you Raps!!!

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