They’re a tough matchup at the best of times, but catching the Cleveland Cavaliers now with the franchise — Chris Bosh — hobbled by a sore ankle and not expected to play, takes nightmare to another level entirely.
Say this for the Raps though: They sound eager for the opportunity.
“He’s a huge part of this organization and he has been carrying the load for us the whole year,” Raptors forward Hedo Turkoglu said of Bosh. “I know it’s going to be tough especially against good teams when you’re missing your best player, but it will be a good opportunity for other guys to step up. Hopefully as a group we step up.”
Whether it was Bosh himself suggesting “a miraculous feeling overnight” would be required or head coach Jay Triano hoping that “something happens overnight to make him available”, no one was holding out much hope that Bosh would be back in uniform for Friday’s game against the Cavaliers.
Bosh did some stationary shooting and a few movement drills but certainly no running on the ankle he sprained a week ago Wednesday.
“It’s feeling better, getting better day by day," Bosh said. “I did a little movement. We’ll see how it goes. I’m still not sure about (playing Friday) unless I have a miraculous feeling over night … which is possible. I’ve been here before and re-injuring things over again, you just don’t want to be in that position.“
"We really didn’t get into any kind of rhythm," Antoine Wright said of the 87-point outing Wednesday. "Normally, with our team, we play inside and out and we never really established ourselves in the paint. In games like that, we tend to take more jump shots and we really couldn’t get our shots to fall.
"He’s the focal point of our offence but we have to figure out a way to stay in games when he’s not out there."
Bosh did a little bit more on his sore left ankle Thursday than he has since injuring it a week ago but not enough to pronounce himself ready to return, suggesting it would take "miraculous healing overnight" for him to dress against Cleveland.
And he’s not about to go out on the court unless it’s a full-blown miracle.
"I’m not going to force anything, that’s how you get in trouble and things don’t go your way for the long run," he said. "As good as (the Cavs) are, it’s only one game, we still have a lot of basketball to play and we play them again.
"I’ll look forward to it; if I miss this time, there’s always the next time."
“The triple double is a sign he’s an all-round player,” Raptors head coach Jay Triano conceded yesterday. “He defends, he boxes out, he rebounds, he can lock guys up when he has to.”
What is an opponent to do and remain within the bounds of the laws of the land?
“I don’t think there is a key to try and restrict him from getting 10 rebounds or 10 assists,” Triano said. “He is just a great player. You have to stay in front of him, make him give [the ball] up and you’ve got to make sure you close out when he does.
“He has a great group of players surrounding him and he’ll have the ball the majority of the time.”
If there is a glimmer of hope for the 31-25 Raptors, who sat four spots behind the Cavaliers in fifth place in the Eastern Conference before last night’s games, it is that the Cavaliers have stumbled a little since trading for Jamison nine days ago. They lost three games in a row after he arrived before beating the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday.
Also, the Cavaliers will arrive for tonight’s game having played the previous night in Boston – although the Trailblazers did likewise on Wednesday and still had little trouble with the Raptors.
James kept the Cavaliers in it for three quarters on a night they lost Shaquille O’Neal to a first-half thumb injury. After the game, Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said O’Neal will not play Friday’s game in Toronto against the Raptors.
"When you have Chris Bosh in the lineup, a lot of times you give it to him and he either creates or holds the ball and makes a play," Raptors head coach Jay Triano said. "Right now, we’re having to make more passes each possession down the floor to find ways to score. When you do that, there’s a better chance that guys turn it over."
Without Bosh, the Raptors’ margin for errors becomes slimmer. Turnovers must be limited. Against an elite team like Cleveland, the margin shrinks even more.
These are not the Cavaliers that the Raptors beat on opening night, a team that was struggling with working Shaquille O’Neal into the lineup. Yes, Cleveland is adjusting to life with another star, as Antawn Jamison was acquired at the trade deadline. But for the Cavaliers, Jamison, a multitalented forward, seems a more-natural fit to play with LeBron James than O’Neal. The get-to-know-each-other process is simpler.
"It took them a while to use Shaq the right way," Triano said. "They obviously have. Jamison’s a good player with very high basketball intelligence. He’ll find a way to fit in with that team."
Depending on where the cap falls, there could be eight teams with enough money to sign two players to maximum contracts. But Wade and James have both spoken of their desire to contend and not just cash in with new contracts.
So naturally Bosh has entered the equation. Will Wade and James take a pay-cut to try and include the 24-year-old All-Star in their plans?
We have a long way to go before we’ll know anything substantial about where the three superstars will go from here, but now is as good a time as any to break down their chances of joining forces for 2010.
Even if Shaquille O’Neal’s thumb injury keeps the big center out for any length of time, the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t take long to prove they can dominate without him.
The Toronto Raptors could have trouble doing the same without Chris Bosh.
The NBA’s best team will be without O’Neal on Friday night at Toronto, but a bigger hole will likely remain in the Raptors’ lineup as the Cavs go for a third straight victory.
O’Neal scored 20 points in consecutive games for the first time all season before Thursday’s game, but he sprained his right thumb during the second quarter of a 108-88 win at Boston and did not return, with the team calling the injury "significant."
His absence didn’t slow down the Cavs, who trailed by eight at the half but outscored the Celtics 60-32 after the break, led by 14 fourth-quarter points from Mo Williams.
James averages 27.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists in 23 career games versus Toronto. James scored his career high of 56 points at Toronto on March 20, 2005. O’Neal averages 25.7 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 26 career games against the Raptors. His 65.9 percent shooting against them from the floor is his best mark against any opponent. Antawn Jamison averages 22.2 points and 9.3 rebounds in 28 games versus Toronto, with the rebounding figure being his best against another team.
If the appeal is supposed to be getting a pair of individual superstars to come together and pool their talents on the same team, then the logical extension — and the biggest splash — is to make the same pitch to all three.
In Miami and New York, the appeal would be for the threesome to remember the bonds they forged while playing for USA Basketball, where D’Antoni served as an assistant coach, and the dominance that went into winning the Olympic gold medal at Beijing in 2008. If that experience was fun, wouldn’t grabbing the entire NBA by the throat for the foreseeable future be a giddy delight?
Surely, they’d be able to do that even if every other player on the roster were a minimum salary player. And they would be.
The impediment, of course, is the money. Each of them would have to leave something on the table. And, so far, no maximum level free agent in the NBA has ever done that.
Bargnani currently ranks 97th in usage rate, 10th as a center. He is 90th in shooting percentage in the league, but 27th overall as a center.
He has a turnover ratio of 8.2, which ranks 6th as a center.
What do these numbers mean?
Let’s look at the good things first. It’s definitely easier for a guard to have a higher usage rate, since they have the ball more and if they can’t pass the ball to the bigs, the bigs would never get a chance to create. So as a center, you are more dependent on a teammate to getting you the ball. Bargnani ranks 10th in terms of usage rate as a center.