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Raptors 79, Heat 97 – Box

“The Raptors fall tonight to the second seed in the East”, is how Matt Devlin polished the turd as he signed off for the 82nd time this season. While technically true, it’s the farthest thing from the truth. The Raptors fell to Eddie House’s 35 points and Jamal Magloire’s 19 rebounds, as LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh were all resting since they have bigger fish to fry. Thankfully, the season comes to an end and not a moment too soon. The Raptors end it losing 11 out of 13, and reach the finish line bruised, battered and literally out of breath.

The Raptors entered the game knowing that they’d finish 28th in league rankings so there was nothing on the line for either team. Eddie House lit up the Raptors for 18 points which makes sense because he’s a scrub and scrub’s always have good games against the Raptors. DeMar DeRozan struggled to start the game, had a strong middle portion of the contest including a couple very sweet drives and dishes to Dorsey for dunks, and then ended it with a whimper. The Raptors bench (8-man rotation) responded in the second quarter, Julian Wright and Alexis Ajinca complemented Jerryd Bayless as the Raptors assumed a 1 point hafltime lead, fully recovering from House’s early blow.

House didn’t score in the second quarter and things were on course to be a tight game where at the very least the home crowd would get some pizza. Unfortunately, House launched another second-half assault . This time scoring 17 points midway between the third and fourth quarters. This time around the Raptors 8-man rotation had no response, and Miami’s control of the boards saw them comfortably ease through with a 97-79 win. Jerryd Bayless with a good scoring night (21 pts, 4 ast, 5 TOs, 9-10 FT), and James Johnson with another statistically sound overall game (12 pts, 6 reb, 6 ast) were the highlights. It took Jay Triano 81 games to decide that Solomon Alabi is worth a season-high 13 minutes (didn’t do much, 2 rebounds). He looked rawer than sushi, making you think hard just as to why he was exiled to the D-League when this was supposed to be a developmental year. Anyway, in a battle of “B” teams, the Heat came out on top, rather easily.

So, season over and what did we learn? Depends on who you are and what you value, for me, there is one potential bright spot on this team – DeMar DeRozan. And I can’t even decide whether his numbers are a product of playing high minutes on a bad team or a sign of basketball growth. Time will tell, in either case, right now he’s the Raptors best player and that’s saying a lot for a sophomore who played one year in college. Ed Davis has raw potential, but so does James Johnson. Davis seems to have the work-ethic and seriousness that is required to be good, so he has a lot of fans on his side right now, I get that, I really do, but we might be getting ahead of ourselves when anointing him as DeRozan’s sidekick for years to come. As the RR poll on the left sidebar seems to indicate, all this team has is a chance to be good. But guess what? Every other bad team in the NBA can lay claim to that.

Remedying the defense should be top priority this summer, even if it means hiring Kevin O’Neill and Mike Fratello as assistants. It doesn’t matter how many points Andrea Bargnani is averaging or how many great dunks DeRozan had, all that offense is easily trumped by defense. It’s not even close and let me put it in simple terms – 14 NBA teams miss out on the playoffs each year. Of the 14 that missed out, 13 are the lowest ranked defensive teams in the league, Mike D’Antoni’s Knicks being the exception. Now let’s look at it the other way around, 5 teams with bottom-14 offenses made the playoffs. Granted, such crude analysis isn’t proving anything, but it should at least make one think about where the priorities should lie.

For the second straight year the Raptors have finished with the league’s worst defense. Last season the team displayed very poor effort and deservedly finished dead last, this year the effort was more or less good, and the defensive capacity of the players was better, yet we replicated our misery. Discussion on why the Raptors are so poor defensively is pointless because the conversation ends up channeling to a stream such as “Bargnani is a bad defender”, “Jose Calderon lets in too much dribble penetration”, “DeRozan can’t guard his shadow”, “Triano/Iavaroni/Carlesimo suck” or some other conjecture that is impossible to prove. The man whose job is to fix this is Bryan Colangelo, and he’s got some very tough decisions to make.

Does he finally pull the plug on the Bargnani experiment? Just like I was sick of Chris Bosh in Toronto, so am I of Andrea Bargnani, at least in the role of starting center playing 35 minutes a night. His defensive ineptitude has not been overstated and it is difficult not to subscribe to the theory that a center who cannot anchor, or at least help, the defense should not be starting. His offensive talents deserve minutes and he can, and I truly mean this, easily be the Sixth Man of the Year in this league. There is no shame in that, except that the likes of Eric Smith think that his contract mandates him starting. Manu Ginobili makes $12M a year and was only slotted in the starting lineup this year, Jamaal Crawford makes $10M a year, Jason Terry makes $10.6M, Lamar Odom makes $8M a year, do I need to go on? What is the bloody shame in coming off the bench? Someone please explain to me.

The draft should be dead simple. Get the best player available regardless of position and if you don’t have a need for him, package him. I made the point a few posts ago that the Raptors have enough young guys on the team and adding more youth to the mix might not necessarily be the best idea, at least not unless you ship a couple off at the same time. Depending on who’s declaring and where the Raptors are picking, this decision could be made for Colangelo well before the draft. This team is also lacking veterans who can hold the young guys accountable, no offense to Reggie Evans. Finding glue guys isn’t easy and you almost always need to have a reputation that precedes you if you’re going to try and be one. Browsing the free-agent list there’s not much to pick from, but you get the idea of what I’m saying. Take a look at Tony Allen’s impact in Memphis, a subtle signing that paid dividends beyond statistics.

Reggie Evans, Alexis Ajinca, Sonny Weems, Julian Wright and Joey Dorsey are all free agents. The two guys the Raptors should consider bringing back are Dorsey and Wright, both have been nailed to the deep end of the bench without cause for much of the season and can be part of the extended bench next season. I’m sure the summertime will be full of discussion and debate as to how Colangelo should continue the reconstruction of a franchise that is desperate for a taste of success. The term “long suffering” has often been associated with fan bases in every sport, I can honestly say that Raptors fans are a perfect candidate for that moniker.

My win prediction in this development year was 27; the Raptors have fallen 5 shot and have hit a remarkable loss total of 60. The losing was expected and was fairly tolerable because the effort was on the north side of acceptable. In terms of player development, DeRozan improving his jumper (Dave Hopla’s take), tightening his dribble and using his athleticism and aggression to get to the free throw line was easily the highlight. Andrea Bargnani didn’t take a step back or forward, his scoring may have increased but his TS%, eFG% and WS/48 all regressed, not the way a “star” player should respond to the perceived obstacle in his development being removed. DeRozan did the same, only he has the excuse of being a second year player. In either case, the impact of losing the double-team threat of Chris Bosh played on their numbers. Ed Davis was what we expected him to be – an athletic, hard-working, defensive-minded player with a work ethic that will make him a mainstay at this level. Jerryd Bayless and James Johnson were late additions to the “pseudo core” of the Raptors, their trail awaits this summer.

Season number 16 has ended. It certainly wasn’t anything to remember, and if it weren’t for us all swallowing the rebuilding pill, it would be a lot harder to take.

Thank you being part of Raptors Republic, we appreciate your visits and contributions, and work hard to make this site an enjoyable experience even though there is often disagreement. I’d like to take a minute to thank the people that make RR possible, a site of this size needs a lot of work and these guys do it (alphabetical order): Josh Budd, Steve Gennaro, Sam Holako, Nils Linnenbruegger (and the forum crew of Apollo, MangoKid, Matt52 and .40 Cal Flakes), Tom Liston, Trevor Martin (chat mod), Wahab Mohammed, Blake Murphy and Scott Phillips. We’d also like to thank ESPN, the TrueHoop Network, and in particular Henry Abbott and Kevin Arnovitz.

Thank you.