So with a 1:21 left in the Bulls/Cavs game, Noah hits the go ahead basket, and neither side is able to score for the rest of the game; Bulls win and draw even (in win/loss) to the Raptors. They’re still 9th in the east, but when if the Raptors lose to the Hawks tonight, they will be in 8th place by half a game. So it goes in Raptorland…

The Raptors are the walking wounded, what terrible luck that Bosh and possibly Turkoglu are out when things are coming down to the wire. From the beginning of the season, even though a few of us talked about the Raptors being a .500 team, and the 5th to 8th spots in the East not being decided until the last couple games of the season, it doesn’t mean we’re not nervous about the last week of the season.

Including tonight, both the Raptors and Bulls have four games to go, and their schedules look like:

Toronto
@ Atlanta
vs Chicago
@ Detroit
vs New York

Chicago
@ New Jersey
@ Toronto
vs Boston
vs Charlotte

The Chicago game is a must win, there is no question, but the Raptors have owned Detroit and New York all year, if they can win 2 of those three games, I think the Raptors sneak into the playoffs. You have to remember that Boston can’t rest their guys much coming down the stretch since they are dead-locked with Atlanta for the 3rd seed (no one wants Cleveland in the 2nd round). I don’t know, I think the playoffs are on the horizon, and with Bosh rumoured to possibly return for the playoffs….could be a boon.

First things first though, the Hawks. I checked in with Bret LaGree of Hoopinion about the Hawks:

Q. With Boston holding the tie breaker, I took a look at both your schedules, and it looks like both you guys could go 3-1 over the next four games. Milwaukee might be a better first round match-up given they lost Bogut with the broken finger, but do you really want Cleveland in the 2nd round?
A. The Hawks are going to be a decent-sized favorite in the first-round and a big underdog in the second-round regardless of the particular match-ups. I do think Milwaukee (without Bogut) is a slightly better match-up for the Hawks than Miami. For selfish reasons, I’d like to avoid another first-round series with the Heat. I’m not sure I have anything interesting left to say about those two teams playing each other. Even though the Hawks finally beat Orlando, they still match-up terribly against the Magic. The Hawks are probably no more likely to trouble Cleveland but all their games tend to be competitive until the Hawks stop scoring in the fourth quarter.

Q. Can you rate the Hawks this season? From an outsider looking in, I would say they are having a great season, comments?
A. It’s a been good season. They’ve taken another small step forward. It’s hard to see how they get from 50 wins to contending for a championship (I suspect it involves putting good defensive guards in front of Smith and Horford but I don’t have a practical and plausible scenario for making that happen.) but the Hawks were so bad (and boring-bad) for so long that competence hasn’t grown stale.

Q. I know people are talking about Jamal Crawford as a replacement for Joe Johnson, but give me a break! Shouldn’t the Hawks be doing everything possible to keep Johnson in a Hawks uniform going forward? (I have a man crush on Joe Johnson btw)
A. I was open to the idea of trading Joe Johnson and building around Smith and Horford (and Josh Childress but that ship has sort of sailed) two summers ago. Johnson’s the team’s best player but not good enough to take up such a large share of the cap on a team whose owner’s aren’t going to pay the luxury tax. Plus, they gave up too much (Diaw and 2 first-round picks) to acquire him and wasted so many resources (several draft picks, the rights to Childress) that they’ve never been in a position to acquire a true franchise player to play alongside Johnson via trade. The best they can do with their disposable assets is acquire an over-paid Bibby or Crawford. Then they keep those shot-happy defensive liabilities and further limit their options with regard to the cap. I’m not sure Johnson will re-sign but I suspect the Hawks will aggressively try and keep him. They’ll have to make more than one major trade to replace Johnson if he leaves and the organization is terribly resistant to change.

Q. Josh Smith; gush about him a bit.
A. It’s nice to have him healthy again. He really struggled to move last season after he sprained his ankle against the Raptors in the fourth game of the season. He’s back to his normal rates on the offensive glass, blocking shots, and getting steals and now that he’s (mostly but not enough) playing inside of 15-feet where defenses have to pay attention to him the passing lanes have opened up and he can take advantage of that skill, too. If he ever stops taking jump shots (three a game this year, and he makes the long twos no more frequently than he made the three-pointers he’s abstained from this season) and gets back to being a 70% free throw shooter, he’ll be a legit All-NBA candidate.

Q. I’ve hated Al Horford since he raped TJ Ford a couple years ago, but the guy has been huge for me in my fantasy league, would you consider trading him for Andrea Bargnani, straight up?
A. If there’s a precise amount of alcohol I could consume that would significantly impair my judgment but not kill me, I might consider Bargnani for Horford. Marvin Williams for Bargnani better represents my interest in Andrea in a non-altered state.

There are only a few games left this season, I had to throw a jab at Bargnani…

The last time these guys played was that epic Bosh game winner with 2 seconds left in the game. The Raptors played hard and gave themselves a chance to win the game at the end (which is all we want from this team). The Hawks are in a bit of funk heading into the playoffs; they have dropped 3 of their last 4, including their most recent loss to the Pistons. In their defense, they were missing Joe Johnson, who is expected to return tonight (great!).

Regardless of Johnson’s status tonight, the Hawks have enough weapons to really give the Raptors problems. Starting Reggie Evans may not be the way to go tonight. Josh Smith is just too athletic for Evans, who wont be giving him much trouble on either end of the floor. If the Raptors want any shot at winning, Amir Johnson needs to start, and play heavy minutes alongside Bargnani against the Smith/Horford front line. I can’t see it any other way, just saying.

Bargnani bounced-back in the game against the Celtics with 17pts 5rebs after playing TERRIBLY against the Cavs (horrible). Although he hasn’t been shooting very well from the field lately, he has to figure out a way to get some shots when that double comes. With Bosh out, room to operate is sparse. His play will be crucial tonight. If all he does tonight is elbow Horford in the face, that would make me really happy.

I’m mostly just afraid of Jamal Crawford; the guy has been killing us for years, and is averaging 21pts a game against us this season – there are really no words…hate maybe…

If Turkoglu is out tonight, this game could be over as quickly as it starts. Move the ball around, rebound and tempt Josh Smith to shoot three’s, that’s the only way I see this ending well for the Raptors.

It’s the last Raptor Fan Friday tonight at the SCC, and we’ve had a great year with your support, and really appreciate y’all showing up in the snow/cold when the team wasn’t doing very well. So come on down and join us tonight. One love baby.

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