Would the real Andrea Bargnani please stand up?
Raptors 99, Wizards 93

For some reason hearing the guy yell Canada Sucks in this video always gets me pumped up for the Wizards. You might even call it pride, and pride is what the Wizards aren’t showing these days. Ed Tapscott tried to motivate his players for the game by promising them a day off practice if they won. Didn’t work. The Raptors’ blistering shooting and aggressive defense had them up 21 in the second quarter and by the time Washington decided to play hard, the game was out of reach. A couple Washington runs sparked by unforced turnovers saw them cut the lead dangerously close, but in the end they didn’t have a answer for Bargnani or Bosh, the latter earning a reprieve through some good fourth quarter play. There were some nervous fourth quarter possessions but the Raptors managed to beat the worst team in the East by leading wire-to-wire.

Andrea, please don’t stop now. 25 points on 9 shots including 4-5 threes? You put up those kind of numbers and nobody will care that you only grabbed 4 rebounds in 35 minutes, if you keep this up we might actually be able to ask for TWO quality players in a trade. Seriously, his confidence is sky high and he’s extremely sure of himself on the court. There’s no hesitation in his moves, he’s sizing up what the defense is giving him and making a decision to drive, shoot or pass within 2 seconds (contrast this with the 7 seconds it takes Bosh). He’s spacing out the floor beautifully and is fighting for the boards if not getting them. I think we all agree that it’s feast or famine with this guy, I’m still not sure what to expect from him over the next week but if this is the sign of the real Bargnani, welcome! If he’s going to go back to deer-staring-in-headlights mode, it was nice knowing you. One thing is for sure, trading him right now is either the smartest move Colangelo will make or the dumbest.

Or perhaps he should trade O’Neal? As much as you or I would like to deny that O’Neal being out is not the reason why Bargnani is playing well, Bargnani’s consistently great play over the last week and a half suggests otherwise. Can the two coexist? Is there a coaching tweak that will allow them to be on the same team with Bosh and be effective? Bargnani’s touches have naturally increased with O’Neal out and you can argue that he’s the type of player that thrives on touches more than shots. He only hoisted up 9 shots today but was much more involved in the game than when O’Neal is out there. O’Neal isn’t a black hole by any means but he does force Bargnani to play the SF and when the ball does get kicked out to Bargnani at the wing against a quicker SF, he will naturally struggle to use his quickness. Today against Blatche he was able to use his natural advantage over other players at his logical position much more easily than say, against Stephen Jackson.

On with the recap, Calderon was out with the hammy, O’Neal was out with…er…knee? And Jamario Moon had a little baby girl. Raptors Republic congratulates him. Seriously, we do, it’s one of the few things he’s done right this year. Since Ha-Ha-Hassan got traded (partly thanks to ex-Raptor Fred Jones) and released within 20 minutes, our roster was down to 9 men and on any other night it would’ve been a straight-up L but these are the Wizards.

Bargnani and Solomon led the Raptors with 7 and 6 as they shot 12-17 (71%) in the first quarter and opened up a 27-16 lead. Anthony Parker was matched up with Caron Butler which left Andray Blatche guarding Bargnani who showed no hesitation in putting the ball on the floor against Blatche whose defense reminded me of one John Wallace. There was a first quarter play which showed the difference in attitude and intensity between the two players: Bargnani caught the ball on the corner and drove the baseline, easily going past Blatche. Instead of moving his feet to defend, Blatche blatantly grabbed Bargnani from behind to get the foul. Prior to that, Bargnani had gotten a dunk by making a solid cut right down the heart of the paint, Bosh made the quick-hit pass as he was sizing up on the left-block. It was plays like these, some great inside-out ball-movement, efficient swing passes and error-free point-guard play from Will Solomon that had the Raptors out in front. Washington was doubling Bosh and he managed to properly pass it out for 4 first quarter assists including three to open shooters (Parker, Graham, Solomon). The drive ‘n kick was working for Solomon (Jose, take note) and the defense was keeping Caron Butler and Mike James on the perimeter – Will Solomon doing an excellent job of digging in against James.

The second quarter was a more competitive affair. Jason Kapono came off the bench to guard Nick Young and you’re immediately thinking bad matchup for the Raptors. Instead of letting Young punish him off the bounce, Kapono took it to the slasher by hitting two quick-fire threes setup nicely by Roko and Parker. Of course he followed it up by throwing the most nonchalant pass to Solomon in the backcourt which got picked off and returned for two. Given how bad he’s been playing of late his 12 points on 5-8 shooting can be considered a phenomenal game which should up his trade value. Jamison’s inside/outside game makes him a very tough matchup for anyone, after scoring only 2 in the first quater he exploded for 11 points in 5:34 and gave the Wizards the belief that they could hang with the Raptors if they crashed the offensive boards and tried to initiate their offense through early drive ‘n kick plays instead of isolation sets. Nick Young might have only had three points in the frame but he had an impact in the quarter – his activity against Kapono threw the Raptors defensive positions off as they conceded 5 offensive rebounds. What was once a 21 point lead had been sliced to 12 and the get-lead-blow-lead pattern was being followed yet again.

A note about Antawn Jamison, I liked the guy but he refuses to give the Raptors any credit thus changing my opinion of him from good guy to prick:

It’s a step back, not because of who wasn’t on the court for them, but just the way we played. We didn’t play good basketball at all. We didn’t get effort. We got outrebounded by one of the worst teams in the NBA. We thought the outcome should have been different.

Voskuhl got the call ahead of Humphries and did a nice job of throwing his weight around and playing big. Humphries got into the game in the second quarter looking really anxious and picked up a foul within 14 seconds. After that he conceded a bad offensive rebound to Caron Butler who made him pay with 2 FTs. We’ve seen how Bargnani and Graham have struggled in the past whenever they’re looking over their shoulder and it’s safe to say that Humphries is falling into that trap. He’s playing like his sole goal is to win his job back, not do what’s right on the court. He can be a valuable asset to this team and Triano’s got to keep him in the regular rotation. True to “Hump Jordan”, he later drove the ball for a great dunk. Hopefully that does something for him.

A Wizards 7-0 early third quarter run sparked cut the lead down to 7 making this a whole new ball-game. The Raptors affinity towards turning the ball over had kept the Wizards in the game and now they were ready to pounc on us. We committed 20 turnovers which led to 21 Wizard points. and if it weren’t for us shooting 54% for the game this would’ve been the main reason we would’ve lost. The 35 people in the crowd felt the momentum shift to the home side as the Wizards started to get some defensive stops thanks to 6 Raptors turnovers in 5:23 seconds. Jamison, Butler and Blatche got scores and it looked like their offense had woken up. That’s when the most important run of the game happened.

The lead was at 8 and Chris Bosh drove the ball aggressively at Jamison for a score, on the ensuing possession Bargnani came up with a big block to Jamison which sparked the fastbreak and Bargnani dished it off to Will Solomon who banked in a short jumper. The Wizards go back to Jamison who gets blocked again – this time by Bargnani – and Parker pushes the break to find Bargnani who was ran a nice channel for two more. The lead was back up to 14 and momentum was back with the Raptors. Key defensive plays had sparked the offense and the Raptors were once again firmly in control. We went -1 for the remaining 5:13 of the quarter and took a 13 point lead into the final frame. We bended but didn’t break.

The lineup of Ukic, Graham, Voskuhl, Kapono and Bargnani started the fourth. Triano elected to rest Bosh and those pesky Wizards immediately went to Jamison and he got two scors as part of a 8-2 run against Bargnani. Bosh returned when the lead was at 7 and the Raptors went to him as the double came leaving Bargnani open for three as the Wizards rotated – big splash! The lead was back to 10 but the danger wasn’t over, Jamison and Songalio hit jumpers to cut the lead down to 5 with 7:20 left. Jamison was being a problem, he had 32 on 23 shots but probably should’ve taken about 35 for them to have a chance. This was the closest the Wizards had been since the first quarter and it meant that the Raptor would have to execute down the stretch, albeit against the East’s worst team.

Bosh then put his aggressive hat on and traded punches with the Wizards at the FT line for 9 points, the Wizards (like many teams) can’t counter his quickness and when the referees are obliging, it’s gravy train for CB4. After much bally-hoo including two questionable Chris Bosh jumpers (why even take those when they’ve shown they can’t stop you) we had a 6 point lead with 2:20 left and that’s when the most important play of the game happened: Bosh doubled, kicks it out to Bargnani for 3. 9 point lead with 2 minutes left, when’s the charter home?

Anthony Parker deserves a lot of credit for forcing Caron Butler into 6-18 shooting while himself netting 15 point and 7 rebounds on 6-9 FG. Maybe he’s caught his second wind, whatever it is he’s playing with more energy and was able to keep Caron Butler from attracting multiple defenders in the paint. After him and Moon got lit up by on Monday he came back and put in a professional performance against an All-Star caliber player. I know its pathetic to be talking in these terms but a game like this has to increased his trade value and perhaps tell other GMs that he’s got more in the tank than what some might’ve thought.

Mike James was probably licking his chops after he did a double-take on Will and Roko’s names in the game program. Little did he know that Solomon was going to outplay him on both ends. Aside from a couple forced shots he ran the team flawlessly in the halfcourt by giving the ball up to Bosh, making the swing pass instead of taking a semi-contested jumper and by driving to the rim whenever James was struggling through a screen (Voskuhl and Bargnani with good ones). Roko came in and played well, nothing spectacular but he hit a long jumper and a driving layup and only had one turnover. He obviously needs playing time to hone his skill and get used to NBA defenses. With Solomon being the better shooter and evidently higher in Triano’s depth chart, he’s not going to get those 20-30 minutes a game he needs to get better and that is the ONLY case to be made for him to be sent to the D-League. Personally, I think he’s an asset to this team the way he is but if you’re looking out for his long-term future, it might be the better thing to do.

We lost the PINP battle 42-24 but that’s OK when you shoot 54% and go +10 on the boards. Let’s not get to excited, it’s the Wizards after all. They might’ve beaten Cleveland but they are the worst in the East. We got another easy one coming up on Friday against Memphis and after that is a true test – a home-and-home against the Celtics who lost to Houston last night. For now let’s just look forward to having a chance of coming within 5 games of .500, the same it was before we started that 6-game Western trip.

Don’t forget to check out Hassan Adams’ final appearance in the Roll Call.

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