800_cp_sad_bargnani_110113

There’s nothing to complain about. It’s an odd feeling for a Raptors fan, or even a Toronto sports fan. The team’s rising in the standings, coming together as a unit defensively, playing the offensive team basketball that we all hoped to see in pre-season and even getting some attention down south. The “fire the coach” chant is barely audible and there’s even talk in the air of an MIP award for Bargnani and a MVP award for Bosh. So what do we talk about?

Racking up regular season wins feels great but the recent memory of playoff failures has me thinking ahead to the inevitable post-season and what stands to be a tough matchup against Atlanta, Boston or Orlando, three teams we have a combined 1-8 record against this year. The good news is that our big guns have showed absolutely no signs of slowing down and are only getting better. Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani’s scoring has been on the rise as the months go on and we’ve found harmony at the point-guard position. DeRozan’s been steadily getting better and Belinelli’s become more consistent in his role as the offensive spark off the bench. The only guy that isn’t pulling his weight is Turkoglu and it’s scary to think how efficient we could be if he begins to become the clutch player we thought he was.

Could the team as it currently stands challenge one of those three teams in the vacuum of a 7 game series? It’s hard to answer that question because we’re assuming that the Raptor team we saw earlier in the year is vastly different than the one that’s playing right now. 7 out of the 8 losses in the 1-8 record happened before the Raptors “found themselves” and more importantly, their defensive identity (the defensive tweaks Triano talks about as having a great effect on the overall team defense were nothing more than providing help only when needed). The recent Boston defeat was disheartening as ever but despite that you have to believe that we’re definitely not as bad as we looked in November and December. Yes, we’re also not as great as we’re looking right now but I have to believe that our current form is a truer indication of what this team is capable of.

As bandied about as it is, the return of Reggie Evans could be a huge X-Factor for us. It’s not to say that Amir Johnson hasn’t done a good job as the first big off the bench, but at the same time he struggles with consistency as we saw against the Kings. There’s a lot of talk (including the poll on the site) that Evans might steal minutes away from Johnson, but I really don’t see it that way. The guys he should be “stealing” minutes away from are Bosh and Bargnani so that they can be fresher for the post-season. Bargnani is playing a career-high 34.4mpg and Bosh is at 36.1mpg, how these two will hold up playing these minutes for the next 31 games is anybody’s guess but needless to say, an injury would be crushing.

If Evans can give us 10 minutes of good defense and lineups with him have a +/- of around 0 or so, I’d say that’s job well done. If those 10 minutes can be shaved off of Bosh or Bargnani’s playing time in some way, all the better. I understand that lineups having Evans and Johnson won’t exactly be offensively efficient, but as long as they buy us some time when the game is being played to a stalemate it’ll be considered good minutes. Bosh is echoing similar thoughts (well, not really):

It will be five or 10 very intense minutes. Reggie only has one speed. He plays very, very hard. Just to have a guy like that back, I think it’s good for us energy-wise. I think with him and Amir [Johnson], they can really provide a lot of deflections on defence, second-chance points and things of that nature.

Triano is targeting a Wednesday return which sees him go against his former team.

I’d like to play him on Wednesday if I can. I don’t know if it will be significant minutes, we’ll see how it goes.

You can watch Reggie’s interview here. I would summarize it but I can’t follow what he’s trying to say and gave up after about 30 seconds.

A guy that’s found is groove of late is Antoine Wright, he’s playing within his skill-set and according to him understands his role much better. He complimented Triano on putting his foot down which is a far cry from his earlier criticism of the coach about not getting in the face of players.

Everybody’s really honed in on what we want to do and bought into the system. Everybody’s really comfortable with their roles…It’s an attitude, once you got a couple wins under your belt, you kow what it takes and you approach the game differently. You never have that attitude where you’re going to be out of the game.

Coach is doing a good job of holding everybody accountable. Earlier in the season things weren’t said to guys and they were expected to get it on their own. I think he did a good job of putting his foot down and really stressing on what he wanted and guys did a good job of responding.

Him and Triano have met each other halfway, he’s stopped pretending to be a polished offensive player and Triano’s decided to point out to his players (ahem, Bargnani) when he needs to be doing more on defense. You get the feeling that Wright’s respect for Triano has grown and I’m sure the same is true for Jack, the other guy who made those harsh comments after the Atlanta blowout.

I’m a little excited about the dunk-in, the only question is whether DeRozan’s ankle will prevent him from putting on a show and whether people will be impressed by the 6’3″ Eric Gordon pulling out a mediocre dunk. They tend to do that, just look at Nate Robinson. The voting will happen via SMS and I for one will actually send in my vote, I ask you do the same. Here’s DeRozan talking about the dunk-in a few days back.

I got a couple that’ll really get the people on their feet…I want to show them something a little bit new…I have to do enough to get past Eric Gordon and save the best for the main event.

I like DeRozan, but I think Weems can give him a run for his money when it comes to dunks.

Finally, if you comment, please read this.