Gameday: Raptors vs Blazers – Feb. 24/10

Bosh a game-time decision as the Raptors host the Blazers at the ACC tonight at 7pm.

How bad is this ankle injury Bosh suffered last week against the Grizzlies? Frankly, I thought he was good to play, but the powers-that-be took advantage of a light schedule (although the Wizards ended up being anything but light) to rest the franchise before a stretch that sees us play 4 very good teams in a row.

Heading into tonights game, I’ve realized that I have slept on some of the Raptors recent achievements:

  • 8-2 in their last 10 games; hottest team in the East.
  • They have reduced their point differential to 0, mostly by improving their offense (109.3 over the stretch), but over their last 10, they have have actually tightened their defense up a bit surrendering 103.7 a game (a full point less than their current season average).
  • 4 games out of 4th, and 5 games out of 3rd place in the East.
  • On pace for 46 wins.
  • 24-11 since December when everything turned around on a dime somehow.

Looking back now, the 7-13 start wasn’t horrible, but was the difference between a team fighting for 3rd or 4th in the East and a team that is barely holding on to 5th place in the standings. It is also the difference between beating the Lakers and Cavs on some nights, then dropping 2 games to the Pacers on others.

Tonight they host the Blazers at the ACC at 7pm, so I checked in with Ezra from The Portland Roundball Society, and asked the newest member of the TrueHoop Network a couple questions about this team:

Q. Talk about the Camby trade; will he be around next year when Oden/Pryzbilla return from injury?
A. It was a bit of a coup for Portland to pick up Marcus Camby for the expiring contracts of two players who had little (Steve Blake) to no (Travis Outlaw) role in the team’s future. The basketball culture is strong for the Blazers, and Camby seems stunned by the attention he received from the fans here—few defensive-minded centers who score less than eight points a night get standing ovations before even stepping onto the floor (like Camby did his first night in town). But, of course, that doesn’t mean he re-signs with the team either.

This team is hellbent on having two quality centers after it was exposed that Greg Oden’s knees are made of paper mache and Chinese drywall, and I think Camby’s future will be determined by Joel Przybilla’s comeback (which will take more time than Oden’s) and how the free-agent market shapes the Western Conference. Portland will want him back, but they don’t need him back.

Q. Does Bayless have what it takes to replace Blake?
A. Blake, yes. Miller, no. The problem with Bayless is that his potential is sky high, but he is not a “traditional” point guard and doesn’t mesh well with Brandon Roy’s style of play. But the franchise absolutely adores him, and he won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

Q. Couldn’t you guys have gotten more for Outlaw?
A. Had he not been injured, absolutely. But once Outlaw went down with that foot injury, his trade value went with him. Plus the only team that really wanted him (Memphis) has a poor relationship with Portland that stretches back to last year’s Darius Miles incident (where Portland was fined by the league for sending a letter that more or less threatened any team that signed him with the intention of hurting Portland’s books). I think Outlaw is going to win a Sixth Man of the Year award sometime soon, and is a fantastic personality as well. Portland might try to re-sign him during the offseason, since I doubt he stays a Clipper once the season ends.

Q. New Orleans/Memphis/Houston are hot on your heals, are the Blazers a playoff team?
A. Thanks for reminding me. The problem—and I use that term loosely—is that the Blazers really overachieved this year. The fact that they are still in the playoff hunt after losing Oden, Przybilla, Outlaw, Nicolas Batum, Rudy Fernandez, and Brandon Roy for extended stretches of the year is shocking. After losing four of their last five (tonight’s Nets game not included in that equation), it seems like this team is running on fumes. Roy’s hamstring is clearly not healthy and he even briefly considered sitting out for the remainder of the season following last week’s game against the Clippers.

Thankfully the schedule is a bit more favorable for the Blazers in the second half, and most people think this team can limp into the playoffs as the eight seed. There, they will play the Lakers, who if I am not mistaken, are a team with limited talent, zero playoff experience, and no history of defeating Portland in the postseason whatsoever. That should work out just fine.

Q. Still wish you had Hedo Turkoglu over Andre Milelr? What would Portland fans think if the Blazers took Turkoglu back in a trade?
A. God no. I’ll always remember the day that deal fell through because it happened minutes after Sarah Palin resigned from the governor’s seat of Alaska. Without a doubt the news of Turkoglu rejecting Portland overshadowed the Palin story, which means a lot when you consider in how shamelessly liberal and progressive this city is (Google: “Little Beirut”). In a matter of a few short days Hedo was more hated in Portland than Palin. That’s saying a lot.

Hedo was just a poor fit for this team and fans were baffled that this franchise—which at that time had yet to renew the deals of Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge—would spend around $60 million on a player whose best days are most likely behind him. Hedo isn’t the devil, but he just wasn’t the right fit for what the Blazers are trying to build. Andre Miller, on the other hand, hasn’t been a perfect fit either, but after a few tough months he has eased himself into the roll the team requires of him.

I should have asked him how he feels about Oden being taken advantage of by some girl, and sending her some revealing pics of himself (NOT SAFE FOR WORK), but I gave him a pass. I mean, I would be proud too, but really?

If Bosh is a no go tonight, I have a few very serious concerns, and they revolve around the things Bosh does very well: scoring and rebounding. Sure Rasho had that breakthrough game, but you can’t look past the fact that they came against the Nets (16pts 7rebs 4ast), especially since against a young/mobile Wizards front court, he didn’t bring as much (10pts 1 reb).

This Portland team was very good defensively before Camby got there, and are even better now. Rasho needs to find the touch he displayed against the Nets, but more importantly, Amir and Reggie need to step up and score some points. During the last two games, the two have only contributed 19pts and 18rebs, not bad, but not quite enough. Rasho has done an admirable job the last two games, but realistically, he can’t be expected to carry the load in the middle. If Bosh plays, than all this moot.

Roy is on his 4th game back, and it only took two games for him to work the cobwebs and kinks out. Last night against the Nets he dropped 28pts 4rebs 4ast; we’re no Nets, but you have to think he can do the same. Since the all-star break, I have really appreciated DeRozan’s commitment to attacking the rim. Roy is definitely not 100% yet, and if DeRozan can run him around early, with Weems (Belinelli shouldn’t be taking any of Weems’ minutes away at this point) picking up where Kid Compton leaves off, we should see some favourable results.

What concerns me the most is what Ezra said about the Blazers over achieving – the sum of the whole being greater than the parts. That speaks to solid coaching, and players knowing their role. The Raptors best bet is to speed up the tempo and make the Blazers run; the Blazers are last in the league in pace averaging 89.9 possessions per game. They do have athletes, and get good shots (offensive efficiency of 107.3 is 6th best in the league), but if we make them run, and get them out of their comfort zone, good things will happen.