I have a lot of pride for the Raptors; haven’t said that since 2001. I’m thinking about this team a bit differently since the all-star break (they’ve gone 2-2 which easily could be 4-0 given how close the Houston/Memphis games were), it’s not so much the lack of talent, but lack of consistency with them. We’ve seen a gradual improvement in both a game-to-game as well as the in-game effort being exhibited since the start of the season.
Good habits from the top (Casey) have trickled down and are finally starting to pay dividends.
Davis, JJ, DeRozan, Barbosa…Bayless and Kleiza to lesser extents (the Butler’s and Magloire’s have had their roles marginalized which also helps) all have shown improvements from the effort level they bring on a game-to-game basis; I’m too lazy to go and pull the numbers out, but I find myself cursing at the TV far less frequently than I was at the start of the season. Tell me you guys haven’t.
As for the Magic, doesn’t matter that they went 12-5 in February; all that matters is that Otis Smith has squandered Dwight Howard’s youth, save one finals run. I need to rant here a bit then I’ll move on: coming into the season where rampant speculation about your franchises cornerstone is running wild, Smith’s biggest moves are trading Brandon Bass for Glenda Davis (and paying a premium for the privilege) and resigning Jason Richardson. This is what Otis Smith did with his offseason; retarded. You know why? Ryan Anderson is a free agent at the end of this season. Why, Otis? Why?
Without Bargnani in the lineup, and the mismatch nightmare he causes for the Magic, the Raptors will need to utterly dominate the backcourt and wing positions to give themselves a chance at the game. This means that Jose needs to be lights out shooting, DeMar and JJ need to attack the Magic paint every chance they have and make Howard challenge them (hopefully get him into foul trouble), AND hope that Ryan Anderson and Howard don’t get into a nice inside-outside groove that could unravel everything.
Ideally, the Raptors need to put a leash on JJ Reddick and Hedo Turkoglu who dropped 21 and 15 respectively the last time, employ single coverage on defense (mix it up with some zone from time-to-time to keep ‘em honest) and force Dwight to beat us from the line. Can’t let them create space for their perimeter shooters, and beat us on the long ball; I can’t stomach a night of watching 3-after-3 hit the bottom the net.
The Magic are 6 point favourites with an over/under of 186.5. Considering they are very well rested, having played just twice since the all-star game, compared to the Raptors who are on the 2nd night of a back-to-back (3-6 on the season in back-to-back situations) and playing their 3rd game in four nights (3-4 in those situations), the stage is set for a 8-9 point game for Orlando. That said, I’d like to see the Raptors play a faster pace, and not let the Magic get into their half-court sets. The Magic are the 2nd slowest team in the league, need to take advantage of that; our boys can sleep in May.