A Toronto win coupled with a Chicago loss will send the Raptors to the playoffs where a first-round meeting with LeBron and the Cavs await.
Unlike the Bulls, there is no Derrick Rose to contain, no dominant penetrator capable of carving defences, scoring on his own and creating for others.
There is no Joakim Noah, who will crash the boards and retrieve loose balls through his hustle and sheer will.
There is danger, nonetheless, in the shape of David Lee and Danilo Gallinari, who scored 24 points, all in the second half, in New York’s win over Washington on Monday.
While Wednesday’s tip carries so much meaning for the Raptors, there is next to none for the Knicks, except for professional pride, which hardly describes the mind-set of most NBA players when the end has arrived.
Mike D’Antoni dismissed any notion of some season-ending speech to his beleaguered Knicks.
“Not really. See ya.”
Which pretty much sums up the Knicks and how they play defence.
In their last 12 outings, each opponent has scored at least 100 points.
In Charlotte, the Bobcats do play defence, because Larry Brown demands it.
The Bobcats are expected to rest their best player, Gerald Wallace (shoulder), because the team is already assured of an opening-round matchup against Orlando, which will play host to Game 1 this weekend.
Chicago is 2-1 against the Bobcats this season, but its two wins were produced at home.
The Bobcats have won 11 of their past 12 home games, their only defeat suffered at the hands of the Raptors on March 29 in a 102-101 loss.
Chicago, which played against the visiting Celtics on Tuesday, will be playing the back-end of a back-to-back.
Bosh, who will sit out Wednesday’s season finale while he recovers from surgery to repair a broken nose, has maintained his usual averages — he’s at a career-best 24.0 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. However, it took him quite a while after the ankle sprain to get back up to speed and by the time he was, the Raptors were falling steadily through the standings.
The Hedo Turkoglu experiment has, for the most part, been an abysmal failure and that could have contributed to the second-half swoon as well.
Because they were determined to make the high-priced free agent an integral part of the team, they probably gave him far more leeway than they would have liked, a situation that could give rise to locker room issues for players who felt deserving of the kind of extended chances the veteran forward was getting.
Turkoglu’s been better in the last little while — after a de facto one-game suspension earlier this month in Miami after he was seen at a Toronto club the night he sat out a game with the flu — but if he’d made the same contribution in the first 75 games, the Raptors might not be in this mess.
If there is good news in Raptorland on Wednesday night, Colangelo will have made the playoffs three out of his four seasons here. When he inherited the team, they were en route to missing the post-season for the fourth straight time.
Still, the picture isn’t promising for the franchise, long-term or near, not with Bosh staring down free agency this summer, not with Bosh out of the lineup for Wednesday night’s game with facial fractures. In the five seasons since Bosh first became an all-star, the Raptors have lost 39 of the 56 games in which he has been absent. That’s a .304 winning percentage. And what are the odds he’ll be able to play in a theoretical playoff series that would open on the weekend at No. 1-seeded Cleveland?
“It remains unknown (if Bosh will be able to play in the playoffs) at the moment,’’ Colangelo said in an email Tuesday. “It is still planned that he will be seen by the (Cleveland-based) treating physician (this week) at which point they will assess his progress and discuss ongoing circumstances and the associated risk of playing in his condition. He may also be fitted for a mask at that time if a return to action is contemplated.’’
Even with Bosh, Toronto would be massive underdogs in a series against the Cavs. There’s a huge gap between the league’s haves and have-nots, and that the Raptors reside on the wrong side of the chasm.
So if we’re going to whisper things about Bosh – if we’re going to put that out on the table just in time for the New York Knicks to come to town for the Raptors’ season finale tonight – let’s talk about the Europeans. Or, as general manager Bryan Colangelo more properly calls them, “international players.” C’mon, you know that’s been out there all year, right? Does this team have too many international players? Or maybe just one too many Canadian-born head coaches?
Jose Calderon is not a starting point guard. Period. He is a walking mismatch. Andrea Bargnani seems happy being a complementary player who can disappear when it matters. And Hedo Turkoglu? I mean, really. So since we’re looking in all the closets and corners, I asked Colangelo five questions via e-mail about his team being too international. He received it on his BlackBerry while watching Bosh get his face rearranged in Cleveland last week. (Bosh, no doubt, deliberately took the elbow for cover – all the easier to shut it down mentally.) This is a serious matter for a GM, who in his words still gets “told by a few agents not to bother.” Toronto’s long-term viability as an NBA franchise will depend on international players because international basketball players are a great deal like Latino baseball players: They’ve grown up with passports, so for them going through the Canadian border is not akin to an invitation to a night in Guantanamo Bay.
The flip side is that people still wonder about communication and culture. Hell, old-time basketball guys still wonder whether a team with so many internationals gets less respect from NBA game officials.
In his four seasons, Bargnani has been more fool’s gold than anything else, but we’re getting closer to finding out if he will ever amount to more than what he is. If Chris Bosh leaves the Toronto Raptors in the off-season – which could begin as soon as Thursday – then the No. 1 role will probably be thrust on the 24-year-old Italian.
Stop cringing. There will plenty of time for that in October, and there’s no need to start now.
As for the now, Monday represented another lonely piece of evidence that Bargnani could one day put his various skills together and produce a finished work, or something like it. Now granted, it helped that Detroit was playing defence like … well, like Toronto usually does. The Pistons played like factory workers watching the clock at the end of a long, wasted workday. As one team official put it, "You can’t read much into games like these."
But in this stagecraft setting, with all the attendant provisos, Bargnani looked good. He put it together. He doesn’t do it often, so it’s better than nothing.
But after watching Chicago drop the Boston Celtics 101-93 on Tuesday, it doesn’t look good for Toronto. The Bulls are a game up on the Raptors and just need one win to clinch. They’re also on a roll, winners of three of their last four. Derrick Rose in particular has been playing like a man possessed, with 65 points in the last two games. Even if Charlotte plays their regular starters, they’ll be facing a motivated team that’s playing well and fighting for their playoff lives. Did I mention that it doesn’t look good for the Raptors?
For the Toronto fans that are going to the game on Wednesday, enjoy it. Because it’ll likely be the last Raptors home game of the season.
The Knicks’ No. 1 wish is pairing James and Bosh with their two maximum-contract spots. The likelier scenario is pairing Joe Johnson with Bosh, who won’t play tonight against the Knicks because he is out indefinitely after suffering a facial fracture last week.
Bosh is expected to want out of Canada and before his injury, expressed frustration with his teammates. Dealing Lee in a sign-and-trade for Bosh could be a possibility as Raptors president Bryan Colangelo likes Lee — and D’Antoni.
Meanwhile, the Raptors need tonight’s game to have a chance at the eighth seed as they battle the Bulls to the wire.
"We’re still going to compete; it’s a big game for Toronto," said Chris Duhon, undoubtedly making his Knicks swan song. "You don’t want to be embarrassed in your last game."
The Toronto Raptors are solid 62.6 percent favorites over the New York Knicks. The Knicks are shooting 44.1 percent from the field which is significantly lower than the Raptors who are forecasted to shoot 50.1 percent. The Raptors have the rebounding advantage at 45.2 to 42.3. Turnovers are pretty even with the Knicks projected for 14.1 turnovers vs. 14 for the Raptors. The Knicks are making 9.8 three pointers on 37.5 percent from three point range. The Raptors are making 6.4 three pointers on 35.1 percent.
When it comes to the Raptors, a lot of money has been spent on a squad whose chemistry never really clicked, whose toughness has been painfully lacking for yet another year, and who has underachieved beyond even the realistic expectations of a 4th or 5th seed in the East.
What’s worse, the Raptors basically painted themselves into a corner while trying to convince Bosh to stay.
That things have turned out so poorly, while also limiting the chances for meaningful change, should probably convince Chris Bosh to cash out early in Toronto and avoid recreating the career arc of Kevin Garnett’s painfully frustrating first 12 seasons.
So, with our second installment, we ask the question: "Where’s the best place for Chris Bosh to wind up by the time this summer is over?" We answer in descending order:
Toronto does have two other expiring contracts they can use as trade chips this summer, or at the trade deadline in February: Reggie Evans is making $5.1 million in the final year of his deal and Marcus Banks’ expiring pact is worth $4.8 million.
Glancing at the rest of the roster, there aren’t too many more movable parts. Bargnani in all but untouchable (he will also be a Base-Year Contract player) and DeMar DeRozan is locked into a affordable rookie contract.
So, do the Raptors considering moving Calderon? If so, what could they expect to get in return? He is making a lot of money (nearly $30 million over the next three seasons) and hasn’t developed into the steady, dependable team leader they had hoped they were paying for. Jose has spent most of this season either injured or coming off the bench behind the newly added Jarrett Jack. Jack is signed though 2013 as well, and at half the cost of Calderon.
Should Toronto look to package Calderon with one of their expiring contracts, or possibly try to push him out via a sign-and-trade for Bosh?
Check back in July…
Here are tonight’s three keys:
1. Dig Deep: If the Raps hope to secure the 8th spot they are going to have to get some big performances from some unlikely players. With Bosh, Wright and Weems out for tonight’s match-up someone, actually EVERYONE is going to need to put it all on the floor. Don’t think for one second the Knicks don’t know what this game means to the Raps – they do, and they are going to want to play spoiler.
2. A Repeat Performance by Bargnani: Anyone have a gut feeling on which Andrea Bargnani is going to show-up tonight? The guy who disappears at the worst time or the guy who was unstoppable in Detroit? The Raps need the latter in order to get the W. If the big Italian doesn’t show tonight that will tell me a lot about his ability to rise to the occassion – something this team has struggled with all season long,
3. Start Quick or Face the Wrath of the Fans: I feel comfortable saying that less than half of the attendees at tonight’s game with realize the Raps lose their first round pick if they make the playoffs. Consequently, should the Raps start slow expect the fans to turn on this team in a hurry. The fans have become jaded with this team. If the players do hope to make the playoffs they need the fans on their side.
For the Raptors, neither Chris Bosh or Antoine Wright are expected to return from injury in what might be the Raptors final game of the 2009-2010 campaign. However, luckily for the Raptors, Sonny Weems is expected to be available something that became a concern when Weems went down with a sprained ankle in the fourth quarter against the Pistons. The Knicks will be coming to Toronto to bring to an end another very disappointing year for the squad with no shortage of fan support. With a surprise W the Knicks would be able to grab their 30th win of the season, and go into what they hope will be the busiest offseason for them in quite some time, on a high note.
Charlotte has already clinched the seventh seed in the East and will face the Orlando Magic when the playoffs start. So the Bobcats are only playing for pride.
But this is the first time the Bobcats have qualified for the playoffs and they will be in front of their home crowd. It’s unlikely this young team will be willing to send their fans home with a loss before their first post-season games ever.
At least this is what the Raptors and their fans will be hoping for.
There should be a worn out Bulls team facing the excited and up-beat Bobcats in front of a highly charged home crowd that doesn’t want to see their new found heroes lose.
Bobcats, don’t let the hometown crowd down. Send them home happy!
How do you know that the Raptors are uncomfortable with who they are? That they have yet to secure an identity that lasts more than a few weeks? The answer can be found – at least in part – in the moves that have gone down over the last month within and around the team.
A total of four changes to the starting line up have been made during the last three weeks. The broken face that ended Bosh’s season last week forced a move at power forward but it remains the only change that wasn’t by head coach Jay Triano’s own design. The changes began by returning Jarrett Jack to the bench in favor of adding Calderon’s handles and experience to the frontline. Rookie DeMar DeRozan was sent to the bench as well and after a disappointing season and an ill-advised night on the town Hedo Turkoglu’s act finally wore thin with the team. He was benched for a game and disciplined for going out to eat after claiming he was ill and pulling himself out of a blow-out contest at halftime.
Scrambling to find the right mix of players in March is insanity for a team in a battle for the last playoff spot in the east. The various reasons behind the moves, at the end of the day, don’t matter. Either does the emergence of Sonny Weems as a go-to scorer and Amir Johnson as a capable performer on both sides of the ball. Even if you are in love with DeRozan’s upside – if not his current side – he represents a youth movement quietly brewing in the Raptors’ background. Add a newly minted Andrea Bargnani and a young point guard in Jack, not to mention another lottery pick should the Raptors fail top qualify for the postseason, and suddenly the squad seems to be built more for the future than the now.
Make no mistake, this team is crap. Defense was an issue at Day 1 in training camp, and still an issue today. If anything, it has gotten worse, a lot worse. Players supposed to play with energy came out with none in the biggest game of the year on Sunday. The Head-Coach actually told the media that he thought the team gave a good effort, that’s nothing new, he said the same thing when the Raptors lose by 26 points at home vs Utah. And with Bosh likely out for the first round playoffs, the beating will be horrible to watch. I really don’t want to watch it and playing against the Cavs would mean prime time television in the US and watching the Cavs embarrass the Raptors with millions of people watching. Not exactly a proud moment for the franchise.
After watching so many uninspiring basketball games, I just wished the season is ending right now and we can move on with our lives. My friend who shared season tickets with me emailed me yesterday and told me he’s done with the team. This is a guy who’s as big a fan as me and bought season tickets in the worst of times, and just had it with the Raptors. To him, they just quit. I can’t argue with that. In fact, I am not going to renew the season tickets for next season. I have had it too.