Been a while since the Raptors of Toronto were on the good end of a blowout. Yes it was the LA Clippers on the other end, but what’s not to like about tonight? Well other than a mediocre 2nd quarter, that is. The wins against New Jersey and Minnesota were just not convincing enough but this was and the second half was about as dominant as the Raptors have been all year.
In the spirit of April Fools Day, let’s see how much of what we saw on this night was a joke, or not.
1. Sonny Weems could be good, I mean real good.
This kid, and he is a pup at 23, is embracing the starting role and extra responsibility with open arms. His defence has been outstanding. He’s been automatic from mid-range. He’s got this high release with good elevation, and it’s money. He’s starting to show aggressiveness and an ability to get to the rim. He’s an above average athlete by even NBA standards. But what really yanked my chain, wasn’t the fact that he was a perfect 8 for 8, with a three at the end, which I think he is perfectly capable of mastering, it was the 4 assists tonight. If he becomes consistent with the playmaking, we may have ourselves our first legit 2-guard since you-know-who. I’m not sure why Milwaukee gave up on him so quickly. Because he can’t shoot free throws? Don’t NBA GM’s gawk over athletic kids with prototypical frames and size? Maybe I’m missing something here, but I’m actually going to say this. This guy might have more potential than DeMar DeRozan. There, said it.
2. Andrea Bargnani is playing with more intensity
He’s picked up on the rebounding for sure. He’s gone from one of the worst all-time to below-average for a center, which I guess is a huge improvement. The defensive awareness has improved, and it looks like his offense has become a little more aggressive. I still would like him to get closer to the rim on offense but won’t get greedy. He’s such a load when he gets the ball low in the post and that’s an irreplacable skill which is pretty rare on the Raptors.. You can park a guard or a wing at the 3-pt line, but you can’t dump anyone else other than him or Bosh into the post. I would like to see this more but it just might be the way he’s been instructed. Is a 6 game stretch enough to think that this is the “new and improved” Andrea Bargnani? No way. He’s still had some lapses, and has a long way to go.
3. Antoine Wright as a starter is better for this team
This is a tough one, just because Turk is such a tool sometimes. But the new season doth approach and every trick in Hedo’s bag will be needed against unnamed Eastern Conference powerhouse. Antoine’s got a great mindset and is very vocal, but when defences really start tightening he’s going to become a major liability on offence. His defence is a little overrated but on this team it’s among the best. And Turk can play defence when he puts his mind to it. He’s longer than most SF’s and is pretty mobile for his size. This translates to at least an average defender, in theory. It’s been pretty much all theory and not much application for Turk, but you just know that if he has a good playoffs, all will be forgotten. He knows it too.
4. Chris Bosh is back
Even Chris admitted after the game that this is a “different” kind of team, on his way to explaining his solid performance. Nice. I would argue that Bosh was never gone to begin with, but yes he wasn’t delivering superhuman games to carry this team like he did during that December/January stretch. A lot of his buckets were assisted tonight, which is one way of getting your superstar going. Having him hold the ball at the elbow and clearing out is predictable, physically demanding, and just not good team basketball. But, yeah, this guy is good and is even better this year. This team’s going nowhere without him.
5. The Raptors are turning the corner (again)
For as feel-good a performance as it was, again, it was the Clippers, second night of a back-to-back without Baron Davis, and nothing to play for but more ping pong balls. Not sure if blowing them out means anything in the larger context. But they have strung together 4 impressive games which might have had more favorable results with Turkoglu in the closing lineup. Are they just playing above their actual levels and will eventually regress back to the mean, which seems to be a mediocre .500 team with awful defense? Or are they a 4th/5th seed quality team capable of winning a round or two in the playoffs, that just finds it hard to stay motivated enough for most of 82 games? Here’s my take. Defense wins championships. Yes, championship teams do feature great scorers, but the teams are always excellent defensively. Always. To keep teams under 100 points is such an accomplishment for the Raptors, but for many of the better teams in the league, it’s just another night at the office. This team is looking at a first-round sweep in the eye unless something really changes. This was not the pre-season expectation for the organization, teams and its loyal fanbase.