You might recall the first Memphis game as being the first time this season you went WHAT THE F&*K! Remember? It was a couple days after we had beaten Cleveland in the home-opener when the Raptors showed us just how bad of a defensive team they could potentially be. We lost 115-107 as their guards lit ours up and Zack Randolph did a James Worthy impersonation in dropping 30 on us. Just like the Raptors are right now, Memphis used to be six games over .500 and that too in a tough Western conference. That was before they lost 6 of 7 (which doesn’t bother them a bit) and you’ll never guess who the win game against. The Lakers.

What does that tell us? They’re capable of beating us if we’re not on our A-game. However, according to Triano, the Raptor team that lost that night is so vastly different than the team today that Triano didn’t even bother reviewing the tape much.

We can’t even look at [the tape] for a couple reasons. They’re completely different, and we’re not doing anything the same defensively. We watched it, but we were laughing at some of the things that we were doing at that point of the year and how we’ve changed since then.

I can only imagine the exchange:

Bosh: Haha Hedo, look how you blew that coverage there.

Hedo: Yaaman I totully dint gard im.

Bosh: Come to think of it, you blew the same coverage a week ago.

Hedo: Yaaman, but I needs da balls in ma hend to mek pley.

Bosh: But we’re talking about defense here.

Hedo: Ya..umm..but en Orlandoz..I..um..point frowad…er…..ball?

Raps have won 8 of 9 and in those wins we’re holding opponents to 100.75ppg, that’s more than 4 points below our season average and whether you factor in pace or not, it’s a significant improvement. The opposition has been weak, the wins have come against teams with a combined record of 147-226 (0.394) and even if you discount New Jersey’s 4-40, it’s against 143-186 (0.435) teams. Success against poor opposition always scares me because it gives the impression that we’re better than what we are. Just like our November record wasn’t a true indication of how bad we were, this record isn’t an indication of how good we are. That’s why I think standing idly and not making a trade to improve the team for the stretch run is a mistake, especially given how the seedings might turn out (could face Boston, Atlanta or Orlando in a 4/5 matchup).

I can’t even remember if the Raptors have ever won 6 games in a row because as far as my memory serves me, our winning streaks always seem to get snapped at 5. The Memphis game is standing in our way of winning six straight because after this we got the Nets on the road before facing the Bullets at home. That should be six straight. After that things get a little rough with Portland, Cleveland, OKC and Houston, but hopefully we’ll have the momentum and confidence to tackle them.

Looking at our remaining schedule and conservatively picking our wins, we end up going 15-15 for the rest of the season and end up with a 44-38 mark, pretty much along the lines of what most predicted (unless of course you had them going 3-30).

MEM – W
@NJN – W
WAS (B2B) – W
POR – W
CLE – L
@OKC – L
@HOU – L
NYK – W
PHI – W
@LAL – L
@SAC – L
@GSW – W
@POR – L
ATL – L
OKC – W
@NJN – W
@MIN – W
UTA – L
DEN – L
@MIA – L
@CHA (B2B) – L
LAC – W
@PHI – W
GSW (B2B) – W
@CLE – L
BOS (B2B) – L
@ATL – L
CHI – W
@DET (B2B) – L
NYK – W

I get the feeling the Raptors are in cruise-control right now and know where the wins and losses will come form, and what the 50-50 games are going to be. This is a similar feeling we had towards the end of the 2007-08 season when we ended up taking it very easy towards the end and got hammered by the Magic after being all too content with a 41-41 record. The Raptors should realistically aim to go 19-11 in this stretch and if they achieve that, I’ll be confident heading into a first round series because that would mean we won some pretty tough games when teams were going all out. With the full roster at our disposal, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that we can can win 19 games, especially if Hedo Turkoglu plays close to his pay cheque.

There weren’t too many interesting quotes coming from practice so we’ll have to settle for Chris Bosh giving us his thoughts on the trade deadline:

I think trade deadline is just a bit exciting, going into this week especially because some teams really make moves that you didn’t expect sometimes.. All of the speculation is over once Thursday passes. I think some team obviously, are going to try to get better. The teams that are known to be looking around, they’re probably going to do something, so it’s just who is going to do what move….You can’t make moves just because of what another team does. I think Dallas succumbed to that a couple of years back when they traded for J. Kidd and the Hornets got the best of them in that series. You have to believe in your team and believe in yourself. If you’re making a move regardless of what happens, that’s different. But, you should be pro-active, not reactive.

Tonight should be routine, the Raptors are a 7 point favorite and I’d put a wager on them. The Grizzlies are 27th in the NBA in three-point shooting and Triano’s going to recognize that and neutralize any advantage they might have through Gasol and Randolph by sending help, neither of those two are great passers and if our rotations out to the perimeter are decent, we should be fine. The other area of concern is transition defense, we’ve managed to win a few games in this stretch by letting other teams run on us and have big quarters. We’ve upped the intensity and effort in second haves to come back but it’s not something we can do regularly and expect to win games. The difference in this game is that Memphis, unlike the Nets, have the players in Mayo, Gasol, Randolph and Conley that can finish a tight game. We can’t have them sticking around within 2-5 points at the start of the fourth, that bodes trouble.

I recall Jose Calderon’s defense being quite terrible in the first game and Mayo rising too easily over Jack all night long. It’ll be interesting to see how Triano reacts to that if Mayo hits a few early, you might even see Antoine Wright on a PG/G again. It’s been fun to see Triano actually manage the game lately, he’s made some subtle in-game adjustments that have renewed my faith in him as someone who can adapt to a situation. It doesn’t have to be anything major, it’s stuff like using Jack/Calderon together when the situation calls for it rather than blindly based on a predetermined substitution pattern. Something like dropping into a zone for a couple possessions to give the guards a breather, or going at players who have accumulated fouls, switching Wright on Wade late, or leaving Bargnani in there for defense, using Weems’ athleticism on defense to cover PGs, the list goes on…

Do you remember the good ‘ol days when the internet was only good for porn? Times have changed, the dudes who used to waste hours with one hand on the mouse are still doing that, but in between rests they’re breaking stories like how Noah and Deng for Bosh is being discussed. Speaking off getting comfort by looking at websites, our own Tom Liston spent about six hours of his workday on this page which looks at the Eastern Conference playoff race through the Four Factors.

Alright then, a win tonight, let’s get it.

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