Even though we’re only 1-2 in our last three games it’s sort of revitalized my enthusiasm for Raptors basketball. After sandwiching two lackluster performances against the NBA’s worst around two blowouts by OKC and Utah, it was hard to maintain any sort of optimism, but three straight workman like efforts have reinforced the earlier belief that this team does have the talent to be a middle-seed in the East. The missing ingredient on most nights has been an honest defensive effort and a dynamic coaching plan which suits the players and adjusts to the game.

The starting lineup changes have had one effect which must not be discounted: it has reduced the pace of the game, i.e: the number of possessions played. The combination of having better defensive players on the floor for longer periods of time and having to guard less has helped us become a better defensive unit. The Raptors pace for the season is 95.4, in our last three games we’ve played at a pace of 92 which means we have to defend less and that can only be a good thing. The defensive rating reflects this – we’ve improved our defensive efficiency over these three games by over 9 points which is a very significant improvement. As much as recent incarnations of the Raptors have been accused of following the Phoenix model, the truth is that we are suited to play the exact opposite style of game – grinding it out in the half-court set.

Although Weems and DeRozan have addressed the athelticism on the wings this season, we still don’t the point-guard necessary to facilitate a fast-paced game that can be played in our favor. Once you factor in our defensive vulnerabilities, lack of conditioning, and offensive-minded players, it’s always been in our best interest to play “ugly” basketball. At the end of the day we know we can score so we just need the environment of the game to be conducive to our defense. In other words, I’ll take my chances with the Raptors scoring the ball any day, it’s the other end that’s been a problem from Day One.

Speaking of defense, everybody loves charges. Anytime somebody takes a charge, we credit them for being defensively aware, taking one on the chin and being a good help defender. There were times when only Charles Oakley and Scottie Pippen used to pick up charges but now it’s become fashionable. I did some digging and found out how many charges each Raptors player had picked up, here’s the list. I also figured the number should be normalized for minutes played so you have both stats. Stats are courtesy of hoopdata.com

At the risk of reading too much into this one suggest that Bargnani and Bosh need to be doing much more given the minutes they play and considering that we tend to allow a lot of dribble penetration. The stats reaffirm the working theory that Evans, Banks, Jack and Wright are good defenders in help situations. I’m sure everybody will have their own take on this.

It’s easy to get philosophical about things the day you’re playing the Clippers and a night after the Bulls dropped one at home to the Suns. The gap is now a full game with Chicago two back in the loss column and on the wrong side of the tie-breaker. I was never too worried about losing out on the playoffs so forgive me for not sounding excited about this. I am however excited about the playoffs even if it means going up against Cleveland and Lebron; for those who are looking at that impending series as nothing but humiliation waiting to happen or something that will set this franchise back 150 years, I suggest you recognize that making the playoffs can only be a good thing.

The fear some fans feel is that simply making the playoffs somehow gives the season a aura of success and that making the post-season will validate the moves Colangelo had made over the summer. You want Colangelo and MLSE to recognize and acknowledge that they’ve failed so that the appropriate changes can be made, I get that, I truly do because I share that sentiment. However, that message is communicated just as clearly by missing the playoffs as it is by losing in the first round for the third time in four years. MLSE brass has secretly acknowledged that nothing short of a playoff series win would constitute a successful season so let’s just get behind this team and try to have a go in the post-season. Also, you think Chicago fans are rooting against their team just so Vinny Del Negro gets fired? C’mon, get serious. And as far as our pick, we don’t get to keep it forever, either we lose it this year or the next.

If you still insist that everything is doomed and it’s best we focus our energies in bartering Chris Bosh, then check out Apollo’s extensive list of players who could be acquired in a Bosh sign-and-trade if it ever came to that. I think some of the names being thrown around are more than acceptable but border on wishful thinking. I can’t recall too many sign-and-trades which fetched anything worthwhile.

Oh yes, the Clippers. They’ve won three games in March, are 2-12 in their last 14, are playing on a back-to-back after being thumped in Milwaukee, and are without Baron Davis (back spasms). Last night it was a 15 point game at the half so it wasn’t a total blowout; the Clippers played the third even which meant there was an outside chance at a comeback in the fourth, of course that didn’t happen and in the end three of their starters played 32, 37 and 39 minutes. They’re going to be a little spent and if the Raptors play with the same level of urgency as they have of late, I anticipate little problems. On the other hand, drop this one at home and you’ll have hit a new low. Looking at the head-to-head between Bargnani and Kaman you notice that Kaman’s got the better of him consistently.

I hope you caught the bit about Antoine Wright talking trash and telling the officials not to pay any attention to Michael Jordan. I can’t quite put my finger on it but there’s something about Antoine that I really hate and really like. I just can’t figure which is what.

And finally, this is the much-anticipated rematch of this:

Steve’s got his podcast coming up later. Happy Champions League!

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