Thursday’s practice was the first time Davis was able to participate in game-situation drills with the team, although he was shut out of the ones involving contact. Then he remained long after his teammates had left, practising 15-foot jumpers with assistant coach Alex English, the sweat pooling down Davis’s back, dripping past the black plastic brace hugging his knee. After that, he hit the weight room.
The Raptors’ coaches aren’t saying when they expect their new forward to return, although Davis has said he could be playing in a matter of weeks.
Until then, the soft-spoken Virginia native will have to stick to being a “student of the game.” Rather than learning new systems by doing them, he listens. Instead of hoping to be called off the bench, he watches closely, learning from experts like Knicks all-star Amar’e Stoudemire.
“When you’re on the sidelines, you really can see exactly what coach is talking about,” Davis said. “Like, if a guy doesn’t sprint back and he might think he did but he really didn’t, just little things like that.”
Asked on Thursday if it felt good to see his dream realized on Wednesday, he hedged.
“Like I said, I would have loved to be in uniform and help the team win. It kind of felt good, but not really.”
Darren Singer, a Raptors enthusiast from the inaugural 1995-1996 season, wants the team to perform well but doesn’t like their chances.
“I think we’re building again, but I’m hoping for the best, hoping for the playoffs,” Singer said. “Realistically, I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Another fan who believes the pre-season analysis of various NBA pundits is Doug Prentice, a man who has also supported the Dinos since Day 1.
“Well, they’re not going to have a very good year because they don’t have any superstars but the games are a lot of fun,” Prentice said.
One Raptors’ devotee who hasn’t let any of the gloomy talk about Toronto get the better of him is Ryan Colpitts.
“I think they’re playoff-bound, they almost made the playoffs last year,” said Colpitts. “With Chris Bosh out of the picture we might actually make the playoffs this year.
“With Bosh last year we didn’t make the playoffs, but this year, with Bosh gone, there’s more of a team connection so we may get even further and win the championship.”
Bosh was a hot topic of discussion as well as the rest of the Heat and all that transpired in the Sunshine State during the off-season.
“[Bosh will] be injury prone this year and it’ll take about four or five months for Miami to start gelling together,” Prentice said.
Raptors head coach Jay Triano said his squad just missed easy shots that will start to fall as players find their offensive rhythm.
“If we can hold teams to 43% from the field, we’re going to win a lot of basketball games,” Triano said.
“I don’t think we’re going to shoot 38% and watching the tape, we missed 12 layups that we normally make.
“If it was jump shots, then you start thinking: ‘I’m not shooting the ball that well,’ but these are layups and we’re going to make those.”
Forward/centre Amir Johnson, coming off a game to forget, concurred with his coach.
“We were kind of too anxious, we missed a lot of layups,” Johnson said.
“Probably just the first game jitters. You can’t get that one back, so we’ve just got to move on to the next one. I’m definitely one of (the Raptors) who can be better.”
Andrea Bargnani blamed fatigue for the many missed makeable shots that allowed the Knicks to go on a couple of crucial runs.
“I think it was conditioning,” Bargnani said.
“It’s the first game. We still have to reach 100% shape.
“(In the) second half, everybody was a bit tired. I was aggressive all game, I just missed a couple of shots.”
Exactly how bad are the Raptors going to be this year?
No offense to any Raptors fans…but things aren’t looking good for them this year. They lost Chris Bosh and Hedo Turkoglu. Now they’re stuck with Leandro Barbosa and Andrea Bargnani as their best players. They’re by no means bad, but their more like complementary guys rather than superstars. However, who knows how the team is going to react? When left without a superstar, one or two players are going to have to better their play to keep the team competitive. Look at the Cavs against the Celtics yesterday. JJ Hickson is looking like a force on that team and helped them win a game many people expected them to lose. Maybe this will be Demar Derozan’s break-out year? But either way, it’s not looking good for them. I’m expecting a very low finish in the Eastern Conference, probably 14th or 15th.
"I don’t know who half these guys are," said Rick Lochan, a 35-year-old manager at Wayne Gretzky’s Restaurant & Bar, which is located a few blocks from the Air Canada Centre. "It makes it hard to go watch the games when they keep losing all their good players."
Although they’ve been in existence for just a short time, the Raptors have employed Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Bosh – in their prime, three of the league’s top superstars. Both Carter and McGrady were viciously booed upon returning to Toronto. Bosh will likely get the same treatment Cavs fans have planned for James when the Heat play in Toronto on Feb. 16.
"He’s going to get booed as heartily as anyone who ever played here," said Bruce Arthur, a sports columnist for the National Post. "People want him to fail. They’re angry with him. They were delighted with Miami’s opening game (a loss to the Celtics). But he didn’t have that same emotional connection to Toronto that LeBron had with Cleveland.
"Chris was liked here, I just don’t know if he was ever loved. He was never seen as a savior to the same degree that LeBron was. People here thought Chris was a phony and he handled the whole thing terribly."
Bosh cut off communication with the Raptors the exact same way James stopped talking to the Cavaliers. To Arthur’s knowledge, Bosh still hasn’t called anyone with the Raptors to thank them for seven years of service, much like James never called anyone with the Cavaliers to say thanks.
But no one in Toronto burned their Bosh jerseys the day he signed with the Heat. There were no demeaning nicknames created for him and no cries of anger. In comparison to how Cleveland reacted to James leaving, the outrage in Toronto was minimal.
"I was disappointed," said Paul Geary, a 40-year-old Toronto banker. "But I wasn’t going to draw a bath and slit my wrists over it."
Toronto fans, much like those in Cleveland, are used to their stars leaving. If it isn’t Bosh or Carter or McGrady, it’s Roy Halladay in baseball or Mats Sundin in hockey. And all of them, except for perhaps Halladay, are booed when they return.
"If one of our athletes leave our city, we get really (mad)," said Stefanie Wright, who also works at Gretzky’s Restaurant. "We take our sports to heart. They don’t understand why the players would leave."
Leandro Barbosa will live and learn and now pay closer attention to the time of day.
The backup Raptors guard was as great in the third quarter of Wednesday’s season-opening loss to the New York Knicks as he was terrible in the first quarter and he offered a joking reason when asked about it.
“The game for me was 8 o’clock and not 7 o’clock so I was late,” he said after the Raptors worked out at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday. “It’s things that happen, you learn and I will learn. I was talking to Coach today and I told him it won’t happen anymore.”
Barbosa had all 13 of his points in the second half, mostly because his nerves calmed down a bit.
“It was my first game and I was kind of a little excited for being on a different team, first time with the team,” he said. “I was having fun in the third quarter and fourth quarter.”
But what Barbosa brought when he got rolling was exactly what the Raptors will need to compete most nights. His offensive quickness and versatility allow him to take opponents off the dribble or hit catch-and-shoot jumpers.
“He struggled,” coach Jay Triano said of Barbosa’s slow start. “He missed a couple early and then he made a shot that rattled around a little bit and that’s just a confidence thing. He’s a very streaky player who single-handedly got us back in the game in the third quarter.”
I have made a few slight changes to both the season predictions and the Raptors prediction; in the case of the Raptors, it looks like Jay Triano is going to play Reggie Evans as much as he did in the preseason, and, due to his struggles, Calderon will be playing less. I adjusted the numbers accordingly and the Raptors improve by…less than one win (although it rounds up). With my season numbers, I knocked off 8 wins to make sure all the league wins added up to 1230. Previously, I was happy with close enough, but…might as well make it more realistic. While all of the previous wins were calculated using the numbers, this knocking off business was done rather subjectively. So here are the last numbers:
“I don’t really worry about my shot because at the end of the day even if I hit both my field goals we still would have scored 100 points,” Evans told Hoops Addict after the game. “Scoring is the least of my concerns. My biggest concern is rebounding the ball and playing defense. In the past this team has been labelled as soft so I’m doing my best to try and get away from that label. ”
As great as that selfless attitude is, it also means that opposing teams can sag off him when he’s on offense. Against New York he only attempted two field goals and one that sticks out in my mind was when it appeared the defender was begging him to shoot. When Evans did get goaded into taking the shot it clanged off the backboard and rim and there was a noticeable gasp and then groan among the fans at the Air Canada Centre.
Still, a couple of times a game, he needs to elevate back up so other team knows he will. Without the threat of Evans hitting a shot opposing defences will continue to sag off him which will mean he’ll start to have a hard time finding a teammate to pass the ball to once he’s done the hard work of corralling a rebound.
You might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks but it wouldn’t hurt Evans to spend a bit more time working on his shot after practice. By the end of the season if he can consistently get easy putbacks it will result in the team having more options and being able to better capitalize on his rebounding feats.
Still, it’s clear that after nine years in the NBA Evans only objectives when he gets on the court is to get in the face of the man he’s guarding and grab as many rebounds as he can.
“Reggie goes out there with one objective: He’s going to go out there and play tough,” Jack explained. “He’s going to bring us that toughness from an interior standpoint, regardless of the matchup. Regardless of who it is. If we all follow that then we’ll be much better off this season.”