5-7 after 12. If you had given me that record on October 27th I would’ve gladly taken it. 6-6 would’ve been just terrific but 5-7 is just a missed shot at the buzzer away from that, so I can be convinced that this is an acceptable record given the early schedule. The defense on the other hand is not, and it’s far more worrying than the record. When will the bleeding end? Tonight against Miami? Sunday against Orlando? Nobody knows, and I’m not even sure whether the day will come that this unit will be an above average defensive team. There just hasn’t been a precedent of a team being this poor defensively and suddenly turning it around without a personnel change.

Michael Grange’s piece yesterday carved open Jose Calderon and rightfully so. Calderon’s defense on Williams beyond awful, the one trend that keeps manifesting itself is Calderon’s insistence to “pick up” his check in the backcourt for some reason. By “pick up” I don’t mean forcing him to give up the ball or put him under any sort of pressure that might result in a charge, but to just stay on his side like he’s setting himself up to catch a lateral pass. This allowed Williams to glide in to the paint all the way to the rim or use a screen whose job was already half done by Calderon’s bad positioning. Whatever it was, it spoke of defensive unpreparedness which is not what I expected given the pre-season talk.

The Raptors are playing 5 of their next 7 at home (MIA, ORL, IND, @CHA, @BOS, PHO and WAS) so there’s a chance to build some momentum. Miami, Indiana, Washington should be straightforward victories at home; Phoenix and Orlando should be 50-50 games given how we played against both teams earlier in the year. Winning in Boston is rare for us and the Bobcats compete at home, we should aim for 5-2, anything less would be a disappointment. This team, fans and media need to shed the loser mentality that we’re supposed to lose to the better teams in the NBA; after 12 games of gel-time it might be a good time for the club to show what they really are and prove the doubters wrong. Last year I said I’d reserve judgment till 20 games and when the time passed, nothing got better and it turned out that the team was crappy from game 1. Let’s hope this year is different.

Tonight it’s back home against the 7-4 Heat who are not very good. Of their 7 wins, five are against the scum of the NBA – Knicks, New Jersey (bailed out by Wade at the buzzer), Washington twice and the Pacers. They also managed to somehow beat Denver and Chicago at home but lost to every other half-decent team – Phoenix, Cleveland, OKC and Atlanta. They’ve only played 3 road games and were blown out in their last two outings by OKC and Atlanta. Despite their reasonable record, the Heat aren’t aiming for anything this season, they’ll be making their mark this summer. Barring a Wade explosion, we should win this one. We better, or I might have to unleash the types of posts that were only too common around these parts last December.

Matchups

The Big: Bargnani is shooting 14-39 FG and 2-10 3FG in his last three games, all losses. The rebounding has been better at 7 rpg over this little stretch but his overall defensive play has been poor. He’s been outplayed for four straight games by Chris Kaman, Nene, Channing Frye and Andrei Kirilenko. What to do? Not much except hope he’s hitting his shots, that’s all it is with this guy, you just hope he’s accurate because if they’re not falling, the chances of him making up for it using other facets of his game are slim to none. So Andrea, you better make some shots! I realize this is a cop-out analysis of the guy but usually I’m only happy with his play if he’s shooting above 60% for the game, that’s the only way its worth it. Lately he’s gone back to settling for that pull-up jumper from 21 feet which might be the worst shot any Raptor takes (including Wright), especially when it’s coming against Kyrylo Fesenko. So yeah, shots. Make them. Against O’Neal. Who can’t move. At all. He is averaging 15.5 pts and 8.5 rebs in his last two games and is shooting 56% for the season. Wait a minute! He’s got better numbers than Bargnani!

BTW, Joel Anthony is averaging a whopping 2.1 pts and 2.4 rebs in 15 minutes of play. I wonder why Pat Riley was hanging on to him in those O’Neal/Marion negotiations.

The Strong: Chris Bosh is playing just great and will have a huge advantage against Beasley whose defensive work has been called into question too often in his young career. However, let’s not forget that lately there’s another big man who’s starting to show a pulse – Amir Johnson. In his last six games he’s averaging 5 pts and 6 rebs on 60% shooting in 20 minutes of play. He’s the only player other than Bosh who brought his game to all four stops on the west coast; he’s acting on hustle and his been the second best big over this stretch. He’ll be getting a real test against Udonis Haslem tonight if the latter manages to suit up, he missed Wednesday’s game against Atlanta with a strained left shoulder.

The Skill: The Heat go as Dwayne Wade goes and he’s had a bit of an odd year so far, the scoring is there at 27.6 but the man has turned into a “high volume shooter”, never quite understood what that meant. It takes him more shots to score the same amount of points? I don’t know, but he’s shooting just 43% this year (a miserable 27% from three). DeMar DeRozan might start but Antoine Wright should be playing him 90% of the time, I’d be reluctant to try Belinelli on him just because playing against somebody like Wade wears you down and it might take away from his offense. With Wright you don’t have to worry about that, he doesn’t have any offense. Sharp-shooter Daequan Cook needs to be held in check, he’s usually the beneficiary of Wade penetration so if you stop one thing, you stop the other. I wonder what strategy Triano will use against Wade, switch on every screen like he did against Phoenix?

The Point: Second year man Mario Chalmers has only crossed into double-digits twice this year and that was scoring 11 points a couple times. I saw a the Heat games against OKC and Atlanta, and he looked pretty bad, turning it over 7 times under very little pressure. He is quick, though, and if played incorrectly can burn you. Sometimes players seek out matchups on the calendar and I’m sure every point guard in the league looks at the Raptors and sees Jose Calderon and thinks, here’s a guy I could get some points against. In this case however, it should be Calderon thinking that, not Chalmers.

The Wing: Did you know Quentin Richardson played for the Heat? Well, now you do. Not only does he play, he plays 29 minutes as a starter which shows you their depth at the position. Hedo Turkoglu might want to dress up for this one because he’ll have an advantage against anyone they put on him – James Jones, Dorell Wright, Daequan Cook and of course, Q-Rich. None of those guys are shot-creators so he’ll feel a lot less pressure to defend than he has the last week and a half.

Rankings

Raptors Heat
SRS: -1.11 (20th of 30)
Pace Factor: 92.6 (14th of 30)
Offensive Rating: 114.5 (1st of 30)
Defensive Rating: 116.4 (30th of 30)
SRS: 2.97 (10th of 30)
Pace Factor: 90.5 (27th of 30)
Offensive Rating: 104.8 (19th of 30)
Defensive Rating: 102.1 (9th of 30)

More in the game thread including latest injury news.

Prediction

The Raptors are laying 3.5. They say the first game back from the coast is always tough but I’m not buying it. Visser‘s sim says 99-88 Raps and I concur, we’ll beat up on the Heat and I’ll enjoy it very much at tonight’s Raptor Fan Friday at Sports Centre Cafe near Yonge St./St. Clair. See you there at 7PM.

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