You ever play poker and you’re down like 200 bucks and you’re about to call it a night and suddenly you win a game to be down only down 190. Entering the night the goal would’ve been to win some money but at this point you’d just settle for getting back what you’ve lost, but even that seems like such a difficult task. That’s a lot like how the Raptors feel right now, they’re seven games under .500 and the immediate goal of the club is to reach water level before even thinking about the playoffs. The Houston win was sweet but the Rockets playing worse than a D-League outfit took something away from it, a win against the red hot Magic would be something nice. Real nice.

The Magic have won 9 of 10 games and sit snugly in third place, 4 games ahead of Atlanta and a 1.5 back of Cleveland. Mickael Pietrus is the only notable injury for the Magic as he’s out indefinitely with a broken right wrist. For the Raps, Calderon had a precautionary MRI yesterday on his strained hamstring and is doubtful for the game. Jermaine O’Neal is, by his own admission, still day-to-day with a sore right knee and is also listed as doubtful. I’m not saying he has a low threshold for pain but word on the street is that he sits for an hour after each tackle in Madden ’09. Seriously though, we needed him today, Bargnani might’ve done an admirable job against Yao but Howard is a different beast who is not going to let Bargnani off the hook in the post. Howard’s one of those players that if you don’t double on his first dribble, you may as well not double at all because if he gets within five feet of the rim, his leaping ability will take care of the rest. The late double-team combined with Bargnani’s strong post-defense bothered Yao quite a bit but it remains to be seen how it works against Howard.

In our last meeting against them (box, recap) Will Solomon got the start in place of the injured Calderon (deja vu?) and created more than a few enemies by committing 7 turnovers, one of them an instant Raptors classic. Chris Bosh was playing like an MVP candidate as he dropped 40 and Jermaine O’Neal had a strong double-double. But that was it, nobody else bothered to do much and the Raptors lost the final 3 quarters.

You might remember Stan Van Gundy complaining about the way the game is officiated in the paint:

It’s different in this league because the real good perimeter players seem to get the benefit of every call with any touch. And the real good big guys, it seems it’s just the opposite. They let people do more in there. It’s the ongoing thing, they won’t say it but the league is doing everything they can to make it a perimeter league and not a post-up league.

He’s basically moaning about Howard not getting to the line enough; reminds me a little of Shaq insisting that there’s not a play where he doesn’t get fouled just because he’s wider and bigger than everybody else on the court. Bargnani’s got a great opportunity to neutralize another All-Star center while making Van Gundy eat his words by having Howard pick up a couple early fouls. Take him to the perimeter, a clever head-fake followed by an aggressive drive where you show the ball should do the trick. Let’s quickly look at a couple keys to the game:

Rokomon: I remember when we all wanted to play the Magic in the playoffs because we felt TJ and Jose would kill Jameer Nelson. Well, well, how times have changed, now its the Magic who will be looking at the PG matchup as being their biggest advantage, yes, even bigger than D12. For starters, Rokomon just need to be aware that Nelson can shoot the three when he’s open. You can’t play him too tight either because he will look to drive, especially when he doesn’t even know the name of the guy who’s guarding him. He had 22 last time, unacceptable.

Hedo: We have no answer for Hedo, most teams don’t. He’s too big for Moon, too quick for Graham and Bargnani and just plain better than Parker and Kapono. Last time he dished out 7 dimes as the Raptors were forced to bring help in the post and on his drives, he saved his scoring for the fourth quarter and exploded with 16 when it counted. I am clueless as to how the Raptors can slow him down if he decides to take the game over. Our best bet is to meet him at the paint on his drives and somehow recover back to Nelson, Bogans, Lewis and Reddick on the perimeter. Tough, tough matchup.

Bosh will need help: Earlier this year he dropped 40 on them and last year he averaged 33 points, 7.5 rebounds on 64.5% shooting against the Magic as we went 2-2 in the regular season. With our second and third best players out, we’ll need him to continue putting up big numbers and hope that someone else steps up. Jason Kapono has been invisible of late and the expectations for Anthony Parker have been reduced so much that a nine point game is considered simply fantastic.

This was going to be tough with O’Neal and Calderon healthy but with both of them out it’s a long shot at best. Unless of course the Magic have been partying out all night and all the Raptors went to bed at 8PM. Actually, even then I’d give the edge to the Magic. So far this season we’re 1-3 in these early Sunday starts and have lost to Boston, Portland and New Orleans. The lone win came against Miami.

That’s about that. Go Raps!

Tags: , ,