Listen, man. I’m not saying the Raptors will make the playoffs, or that I’ve ever had any expectations that they would even come close this year. After they got pillaged early in the season, any ideas about the post-season that anyone might’ve had were eradicated. We all knew the schedule was going to soften up, but history has shown us that those “soft” spots turn out to be more like quicksand where we drop games in the most depressing of fashions. Not so this year, at least not so far.
Here we are facing Milwaukee, a team coming off a home loss which lies 4 1/2 games ahead of us for that oh-so-coveted eighth seed. In this pack also lie Philly, Detroit and Orlando. Philly, as evidenced from earlier in the week, is no more than a whimpering dog begging to be put down. I refuse to believe Arron Afflalo and J.J Redick can lead a team to the playoffs (even though the f***kers pulled off a pretty big win in LA last night), which leaves the Pistons and Bucks. I say its game-on between Toronto, Detroit, and Milwaukee for the final playoff spot. Such are the wonders of playing in the Eastern Conference, where the qualification criteria for the playoffs isn’t to be good, but not be awful.
I was surprised by Skiles’ exit, mostly because I didn’t think standards were so high in Milwaukee. The team had only lost four straight which is like routine in Toronto so you can imagine my shock. I’ve always liked Skiles, though I get the feeling he’s always angry and his message wears off quickly, ala Doug Collins or closer to home, my dad.
Mbah a Moute vs Ed Davis: I predict that by the end of the fist quarter Davis will have devoured Moute’s left arm, and by halftime, eaten his heart. Such is the ferocity of Davis’ game of late that I think the Raptors should make every effort to punish Moute’s lack of size through Davis. Sure, Moute is a good, mobile, defender but Ed Davis is playing like the basketball version of Chuck Norris: Ed Davis doesn’t grab a rebound, the ball submits to him.
Ilyasova vs Fields: Both these players started the season robbing their respective teams and soon realized what a selfish thing to do that is. Since then, Ilyasova has picked up his play and shown the versatility that garnered the market interest. A smooth player with diverse range including an excellent three-point shot. He’s facing up Fields, who is on a rebounding tear trying to justify his existence (see relevant article). This is actually a good game for Fields to “announce” his return, at least as much as someone like Fields can announce himself. If Fields holds him to something similar to the 4-14 Detroit did, job done.
Sanders vs Johnson: These two are mirror-images of each other. Both are defensively mobile, both try to block shots, both struggle on offense although Johnson has been better of late, both commit ridiculous fouls, and both are also black. From a X’s/O’s perspective, the question is whether Sanders can keep up with Johnson as he continues to run the floor hard, and whether he can disrupt the PnR play with Calderon. From Johnson’s POV, he has to keep Sanders off the glass otherwise the Raptors will be conceding an advantage where they should, at the very least, be even.
Ellis vs DeRozan: This I’m looking forward to. Ellis hasn’t scored more than 21 points in the new year and if DeRozan doesn’t buckle up, he’s going to get run over for 30 here. If I’m DeRozan, I accept the defensive challenge and also make a serious effort to go at Ellis in iso situations himself. None of this “let the game come to me” nonsense in this matchup, DeRozan has to make Ellis Pay for his height because what is known to be Ellis’ weakness is rumoured to be DeRozan’s strength – post-up D. Here’s a crazy stat about DeRozan: he shoots 39% from three against the Eastern conference, and only 24% against the West! Is that a crazy stat or what? No, I really mean to ask that because I’m writing this at 2am and I can’t decide whether that’s actually crazy or just a mild statistical anomaly.
Jennings vs Calderon: Jennings is the type of point that might see Calderon and think to have a go at him. He’ll get past Calderon, no doubt there, and it’s how the Raptors defense reacts to the penetration that may dictate how this game goes. He had 35 points in Chicago earlier in the week, and isn’t shy to hoist them. He’s second on the team behind Ellis with 16.6 FGA (Ellis has 17.8), so we already know he’s going to test out if Calderon and the Raptors can stick with him individually. Now I know what you’re thinking: would Jennings be the leading shot-taker if he played for the Raptors? Yes, yes he would. Former Raptor Andrea Bargnani and DeRozan lead the team in FGAs with 15.2 and 15.1, respectively.
On the bench we have Leo’s favorite player, Samuel Dalembert, there’s also the biggest pussy in the world, Mike Dunleavy, and ex-RR writer phdsteve’s favorite player, Ekpe Udoh. You will, of course, get a taste of Beno Udrih who Bryan Colangelo will try to acquire for the 50th time right after the game.
So there you have it: an actual meaningful game with, dare I say, playoff implications! Now I know what you’re thinking: this clashes with my NFL kickoff 🙁 And you’d be right and would have a decision to make.