Had this sucker circled on my calendar, and it didn’t disappoint. Life is great when you don’t have any expectations, isn’t it? The only thing we all want to see this year is effort and improvement. We are starting to see both, in spades. Tonight was no exception.
The Orlando game was huge for the confidence of this young team, methinks. After having a few close battles on the west coast only to self-destruct in the final quarter, hanging on against an elite team in the Magic was a major boost. They rode that confidence into this game. That and the current version of the Heat really are not that good. A lot of people are starting to clue into that, and it’s so satisfying to see it.
It’s not just because Chris Bosh left the Raptors for South Beach or that the lovable LeBron James is on the team, but the notion that basketball is a team game where the whole should be greater than the sum of the parts is exemplified. The big 3 are all examples of the new age superstar, ball dominant players used to creating offense off of iso situations, but not necessarily within the flow of an offense. They may have the potential to play good defence, but until now they’ve never had to do the dirty work it takes to win games. Finally, they lack that true inside presence that every championship team not named the Chicago Bulls has had in the last 30 years. Even the Bulls had Horace Grant and Dennis Rodman types to try and fill that role, but Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan.
And that’s not all on Chris Bosh. He’s a finesse power forward who would complement a tough, defensive minded center very well. But the Heat don’t have that guy, Zydrunas Ilgauskas is definitely not the answer. Right now, it’s open season on Bosh, everyone’s coming at him because he’s not scoring and rebounding anything like he used to. The scoring drop was expected, but the rebounding woes are more interesting. Is Chris Bosh a good rebounder? Seven years of data would suggest he is. Perhaps Bosh has benefitted from being the only talented big the organization has had during his tenure. That’s why Reggie Evans is among the league leaders in rebounding right now, because who else is going to get those boards? Not Andrea Bargnani, that’s for sure.
Have to say that Bargnani did rebound well last night. Can’t pin this loss on anyone, let alone him, but like David Lee, Ilgauskas kept hitting uncontested jumpers because he didn’t close out on time. For a guy who naturally gravitates to the perimeter and blows a lot of inside rotations, how is this even possible? It’s like he’s neither here nor there. Not sure where he is sometimes. Andrea started off 0-7 but then shot decently (8-17) after that. Decent for a shooting guard. He is now shooting 43.4 % for the year. That’s bad for any position, but what do I hear all the time? He’s our only real offensive threat. Not at that percentage he isn’t. He’s back to doing that pump fake, take 2 steps inside the 3 point line and shoot crap that he used to do. It`s the worst shot in basketball. Either stay there and shoot the 3, or drive it all the way in, or drive it in, draw a defender and pass it.
I’d say DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems should take on more of the scoring load. DeMar has had a fantastic two games after laying down a few clunkers. Getting to the line definitely requires a certain mental approach, but it also requires an abundance of talent, and DeRozan has it. What’s made the difference recently is that he’s sticking his jumpers with a little more regularity and that opens up his opportunities. He can make plays that only stars can, and that’s a cause for real optimism. Defensively, he had trouble keeping Dwyane Wade in front of him and a couple of times he got whistled for very questionable plays, and was visibly frustrated, which is nice to see. Kid really does want to get better at every aspect of the game and that’s something you have to appreciate.
Sonny Weems played well, too. Tellin`ya, these two like playing together and you just can`t ignore it, because it`s tangibly evident. I think you take a long hard look at who starts at the three. We know Kleiza`s ceiling. Maybe he`s better off playing other bench players, who would be closer to the talent level he excelled against in Europe.
The injuries and Reggie Evans’ flu also meant more Julian Wright and Joey Dorsey. I love both of their games, especially Dorsey’s. His defence and offense are already better than Evans’. The thing about Dorsey is that he’s added some mass after he got drafted, and that’s turned him into a monster rebounder, even better than Reggie. A good rebounder is a very valuable player. It’s too bad that scoring, even inefficient scoring, is the main stat that most casual fans look at. A rebound is not only a possession gained and a chance to score again, but it’s a possession taken away from the other team and their chance to score. Basic stuff, but easily lost in the shadow of point production.
Julian Wright is a very talented player. He’s got great quickness for his height, and he had a few spectacular drives last night, and another shovel pass to Dorsey for a slam. Those shovel passes never get old. Court vision like that doesn’t grow on trees. The defence also picks up when he comes in. The only problem is his shot, but I`d like to see him continue being aggressive as a playmaker. Becoming a good shooter can sometimes become a blessing in disguise. Just look at Vince Carter.
Finally, Jose Calderon is back to the old Jose. And when it comes to point guard play, old Jose kicks Jarret Jack’s ass any day of the week. His shot is back, his decisions are sound, and he’s playing more of that aggressive style that he used to. When he is on, he is the most talented player on this team. Got to set more picks for him along the point line, because he’s sticking those shots if defenders cheat.
It was a very successful two-game swing. Coming out of it with a win and a decent effort on the tail end of a back-to-back against a potential championship contender, that’s something to be proud of. It was good right till the end, with former franchise player Chris Bosh sitting there, sulking on the bench in the fourth quarter. That alone was worth the price of admission.
Not to derive pleasure from others’ misery, but its the irony of it all that makes me chuckle. The reasons he left Toronto, to win and be in the spotlight on TV, they were all there last night. His team was winning, but it’s not as fun when you’re not really part of it and nailed to the bench, is it? The TV cameras, the exposure to thousands of Americans watching. Not so fun when it’s pointed on you, sulking on the bench during crunch time in the fourth quarter, is it?
Like I said, a wonderful road trip, with a bit of poetic justice thrown in for good measure.Follow @raptorsrepublic