After the offseason we just went through, this thing of ours couldn’t start fast enough. The Raptors finished the pre-season 4-4, beating the teams they should have (Phoenix, Philly and New York), and losing to the ones they were supposed to lose to (Boston and Chicago). Read into that what you may, but the only thing we can take from the pre-season is that we don’t know how good (bad?) the Raptors are going to be.

They run incessantly, they hustle, they play hard, there is a bigger commitment to defense, the bench is deeper; that’s the good news…the bad news is that this team is full of 2nd tier role players and lack an all-star caliber player who can put all the pieces together and lead them to .500 and beyond. I’ll take it though because they have been playing a real infectious brand of ball that I can’t ever recall seeing played by a Raptor team. Let the rebuilding begin…

The Knicks got first; my second favourite team in the league (I was a sucker for the bruising Knicks teams of the 90s). The two teams just played in Montreal, where the Raptors handled the Knicks, weathering a furious comeback in the 4th that fell short. The Raptors defense shined, forcing the Knicks into 26 turnovers, and keeping them to 69 field goal attempts.

I checked in with Mike Kurlyo, of Knickerblogger fame to get his take on the Knicks, some of the players and Carmelo Anthony:

The Knicks had a really busy offseason; what are the teams expectations? What are your expectations?
The team expects to make the playoffs this year. New York has gone 6 seasons without a playoff game, and they’ve sacrificed the last two seasons for this year. For the Knicks, not making the playoffs would indicate failure. I guess my expectations are about the same.

Raymond Felton has given the Raptors problems over the last couple seasons, averaging 17pts, 5rebs 5ast over that span. I thought he was a good signing for this team, and he seems to have the tools to be a nice fit. How is he meshing with Stoudemire in D’antoni’s offense?
The relationship between Felton and Stoudemire has been slow to develop. However I think the notion that Stoudemire relies on his PG is overblown. Amar’e isnt a pick & roll leech that requires someone else in order to score. He’s a 5 time All Star who can work the post and shoot from outside. As for Felton, the big question is: Which player will the Knicks receive this year? Last year he had career highs in shooting percentage (including three point percentage), but the rest of his career he’s been sub-par. And this preseason, Raymond hasn’t looked comfortable in the offense. If October is any indication of what’s to come, Amar’e is going to excel offensively while Felton is going to struggle.

D’Antoni is very high on Mozgov, what can you tell us about him, and how does he matchup against Bargnani?
Mozgov has been surprisingly impressive in some areas, and head scratching raw in others. For his size, he’s quite agile and can run the floor. He has a nice touch from outside, and I don’t have a good sense of how strong he is around the hoop. He’s looked competent at times, but has blown a few gimmies in the paint. Additionally he’s a foul machine that’s still learning how to defend in the NBA, his rebounding is suspect, he turns the ball over too frequently, and he could take a course in setting picks. Specifically against Bargnani, he’d obviously be susceptible to the long ball, as he defends better in the paint. However Bargnani doesn’t defend well either, so Mozgov will probably have some easy opportunities of his own.

Anthony Randolph was a (the?) key piece in the David Lee trade; what is his upside? What would classify as a successful season from the kid?
Randolph is already a fantastic rebounder, defender, and shot blocker. On the other hand he’s clueless on offense, especially in regards to shot selection. As often with many young and improperly trained athletes, he doesn’t have good instincts with regards to what constitutes a good or bad attempt. If he improves his shooting efficiency to league average, he’d be an All Star, without a doubt. This year, a successful season from Randolph would be for him to play 24 to 30 minutes a game. That would mean he’s entrenched in the rotation and getting much needed experience. Oh and don’t sleep on Azubuike, who will likely be the SG starter once he’s healthy.

Andy Rautins has a lot of fans here in Toronto, what are your thoughts on him?
Not sure what to make of him. He’s a guy that obviously lives from downtown, which meshes with D’Antoni’s style of play. He’s made some nice passes, but he’s also looked overwhelmed at times. I’m not expecting much from him this year, as I think he still has a lot to adjust to the NBA game. On a side note, he was a nice guy to interview, and we had a laugh over my ancient iPod/recording device.

I can’t let you go without getting your take on Carmelo Anthony…go!
I’ve answered this question so many times, I can do it in limerick form.
There was an All Star in Denver,
To move to New York, he wished for.
‘Melo didn’t rebound,
Defend or astound,
And wasn’t worth Gallo, Randolph, and Chandler.

Injury Report

Toronto
Joey Dorsey: Serving a suspension
Leandro Barbosa: Wrist Injury – Will be in the lineup

New York
Anthony Randolph: Sprained Ankle – Status not known
Timofey Mozgov: Hip – Status not known
Wilson Chandler: Calf – Not playing

Match-ups

PG – Jack vs Felton
Felton pretty much had his way with Calderon and Jack last season, and in 26min on Friday, put up 12pts 4rebs 5ast. Jack did a solid job of keeping Felton out of the lane (1-2 in the paint), and will need to maintain that streak tonight.

On the offensive end, Jack needs to give us a bit more; 2-5 from the field in 24min isn’t enough scoring, even though he chipped in 3rebs 5ast 4stl. Jack brings that bull-dog mentality that Calderon doesn’t; he puts his head down and gets into the paint. If he can get into the paint, he can create some space for Bargnani and Kleiza on the perimeter.
Edge: Draw

SG – DeRozan vs Fields
I love what I see in DeRozan’s shot-chart, a concentration of shot attempts in the paint:

Doesn’t matter that he was 4-9 from the field and 3-5 from the line, what matters is he got into the paint at will, and put pressure on the defense. If this keeps up, he will give teams a lot of headaches, and make up for the 8-10 free throws a game Bosh used to give us. Last season, DeMar averaged 17.7pts against the Knicks, he likes going at this team.
Edge: DeRozan

SF – Kleiza vs Gallinari
We didn’t get to see Gallinari on Friday, but the kid elevated his game last season; especially against the Raptors where he averaged 19.8pts. Gallinari is going to score, but I’d like to see him take contested shots on the perimeter, Kleiza wont need to come over for the double on Amar’e (DeMar or Jack have that), which should keep him at home defensively. What I like about Kleiza is how diverse his shot selection is:

Inside-outside-weakside-strongside, he takes what the offense gives him, and makes something out of it. Danilo hasn’t been 100% during the pre-season, so I’m looking to Kleiza to take it to him from the tip.
Edge: Kleiza

PF – Evans vs Stoudemire
This is more a case of limiting the damage. While Evans started slow out the gate Friday, he got himself back into the game, and lifted the team with his energy and rebounding. If that’s all he does, he can be an asset for this team; but the moment he shoots the ball…lets just say that a missed shot by Evans out-weighs a grabbed rebound. Last games shot chart is a joke, Stoudemire did what he wanted:

I seriously don’t think we can expect any more than what we got last game. Amar’e is a polished offensive player who can get his shot whenever he wants, and the Raptors have no one to man-him-up and get him out of his comfort zone.
Edge: Stoudemire

C – Bargnani vs Mozgov
Riddle me this, which Bargnani are we going to get? The biggest question left unanswered from the pre-season is how will Bargnani do without Bosh creating space for him? As far as Mozgov goes, Bargnani had the best of him on Friday: limited Timofey to 4 points and 2 field goals. Defensively, the only thing we could have asked of him was a few more rebounds.

Offensively, 6-13 from the field isn’t bad, but he almost missed as many shots from the perimeter, as he took in the paint.
Edge: Bargnani

Prediction

Vegas has the Raptors as 2 point favourites with an over/under of 211. Like I said earlier, during the pre-season, we saw the Raptors beat the teams they should have, this is one of those games that is very gettable. I gotta go Raptors: home opener, the crowd will be nuts and they’ve already beaten them.

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Photo Credit: AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson

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