Evans recalls fondly the first time he met McMillan and the words that were imparted, words that resonate to this very day.
“I was a true rookie who knew nothing,’’ Evans reminisced of his freshman season back in 2002. “Coach helped me understand my role. He was a hard-working player whose jersey hangs in the gym.
“I owe him a lot and I have no choice but to give Nate praise for all that he has done for me and what he means to me. He’s the one who gave me the opportunity. During that era, he was big for all of us players in Seattle. He’s one of my favourites of all time.”
What the Raptors know for certain is that the upcoming list of opponents is formidable, an important measuring stick that may ultimately define this season. “We know what’s at stake,’’ Marco Belinelli said following Tuesday’s practice. “We’ve been able to win a couple of games without C.B., but we have to keep it up. Everyone has to be ready and be prepared to step it up.” Belinelli has been caught up in a series of matchups that have led to the sharpshooter spending more time riding the bench.
Andre Miller vs. Jarrett Jack
Following Steve Blake’s trade to the Los Angeles Clippers, the ball has been in Andre Miller’s hands more often with Portland. Blake had a great relationship with all-star shooting guard Brandon Roy (bottom right), who is slowly finding his rhythm following a lengthy absence in the wake of a hamstring injury. Miller is a physical presence, but Jack has a slight edge in quickness. Both can get out in the open floor and attack the rim. The Trail Blazers point guard is more apt to look to score, which sometimes means less touches for Roy. Jack broke into the NBA with Portland in 2005. He has been much more effective than Miller of late, but Miller has always provided matchup problems for the Raptors because of his size and ability to post-up defenders.
But if the Raptors are to be at all successful over the next four games – the stretch ends in Houston on Monday – Wright is going to have to play a critical role.
Coach Jay Triano calls him his "defensive stopper" and whatever systems the Raptor staff devises for Roy, James and Durant will unquestionably include Wright guarding the other team’s best player in the fourth quarter.
It was a large part of how the Raptors spent their practice time Tuesday in advance of Roy’s visit Wednesday.
"We went through things today, different scenarios … on how we plan on guarding him and the different looks we plan on showing him. It’s a matter of doing them all well and then deciding when we want to pull triggers on some of them," said Triano.
But whatever tricks the Raptors may have planned for Roy, who is just recovering from a nagging hamstring injury, they will be based on what Wright can do to try and slow him down.
"I think he has a good knack for when to take over the game and I think he has a good knack for when to get rid of the ball," Wright said of Roy. "Most good young scorers in the league don’t really know when to give the ball up. He has a better pace to his game, he really takes his time, reads the defence really well."
Without Bosh, it would appear the Raptors are missing an intimidating post presence. Andrea Bargnani, though, had four blocks in Toronto’s 109-104 win over Washington on Saturday.
The 7-footer, who moved from center to forward due to Bosh’s absence, is averaging 2.5 blocks – one more than his season average – over his last six games.
"Most people look to Chris as being our interior defensive guy," guard Jarrett Jack said. "I thought Andrea, the last two ballgames, has done a great job of being that physical presence we need down low."
Jack had 23 points and eight assists as Toronto won for the 15th time in its last 17 at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors are fifth in the Eastern Conference, four games behind Atlanta.
"We know how desperately we need these wins coming down the stretch, making this final push at the end of the season, especially the ones at home," Jack said. "They’re very crucial, they’re very vital to how things are going to play out in the standings. We can’t let these opportunities slip through our fingers."
To win this game the Blazers are going to have to play smart offense like they did in the first halves versus Utah and New Jersey. This team is like a sophomore on prom night: they’ll let you score as long as you’re not too obvious about your intentions. Passing and cutting will be the order of the day. They won’t turn you over, so feel free to be bold with the pass. Don’t fall too much in love with your individual mismatches and you’ll be fine. On the other end finding a way to hold down Bosh will be a big priority. You’d think mobile bigs like Aldridge and Camby could handle it but Bosh is a premier scorer in this league. You probably have to throw a guard at him as well which means being alert and active on rotations. Remember this is a jump-shooting team so you can’t just concede the 15-18 footer and call it good. Also remember that everybody who plays more than 18 minutes for this team except DeRozan can hit a three easily. You don’t have to worry about the fast break or the offensive rebound but in the halfcourt you’re going to have to move on defense from Second 24 down to Second 1.
Series history: This is the first meeting this season. The Blazers swept the two meetings last season, winning in Toronto when Steve Blake made a three pointer in the final seconds. All-time, the Blazers lead 17-9, including an 8-5 advantage in Toronto.
Informed that in the next three games, Wright, the team’s anointed defensive stopper, would have to guard all-stars Brandon Roy, LeBron James and Kevin Durant, Wright quickly got to saying precisely what he did not mean.
"That’s the best news I’ve heard all week," Wright said yesterday as the Raptors prepared for Roy’s Portland Trail Blazers. "What’d you say again? Who?"
Who? Well, essentially it is a who’s who of elite wing players, minus a Kobe Bryant here, a Carmelo Anthony there and some Dwyane Wade. In Roy, the Raptors face a player who is averaging 22.3 points per game, which would place him eighth in the league if he had played the required number of games. He also averages 4.8 assists, giving him an extra dimension.
On the Hot Seat: Hedo Turkoglu – The most expensive free agent in Raptors history finds himself on the hot seat once again. He has struggled, he’s seemed frustrated at times and he’s been booed at home. The fractured orbital bone and subsequent mask fiasco have just been the icing on a bitter cake in Turkoglu’s first season as a Raptor.
He has said he doesn’t want to make excuses, but we’ve heard them anyway. He needs the ball in his hands. He hates the mask. He’s been dealing with a family illness back home in Turkey. Now it’s time to put up or shut up for Hedo. We’ve seen flashes of his brilliance on and off for the last few weeks, but it’s time for Turkoglu to bring it consistently. There are less than 30 games to go in the regular season. The playoffs are approaching and the Raptors are in position to move up in the East. This is what Turkoglu was brought here for. We’ll find out if he can live up to the expectations over the next couple of months. For what it’s worth, I think Turkoglu will finish the season strong.
It’s time to pay my respects to Mrs. Hedo Türkoğlu, who played a big role in convincing her husband to play in Toronto because of the Turkish community there. It must be tough to be an NBA wife, let alone a NBA wife in a foreign country, so I understand spurning Portland. It’s all for the best, though. Chances are the Türkoğlus would have been miserable in Portland, and Hedo just wouldn’t have been the same player he was in Orlando.