Week 10 in the NBA for the Raptors provided an insight to this team long overdue. With games against the Warriors, the Nuggets, the Rockets and the Magic, we faced 3 teams with 20+ wins and a team that pushes the tempo any chance it gets. Starting week 10 with a 12 – 18 record after losses to the Clippers and the Trail Blazers and a victory over the Kings on the road, this team finished its 6 game road trip in Sacramento before heading home to face the Warriors. Here is how I saw the games last week
Monday December 29th, 2008 Raptors @ Warriors
With Corey Maggette and Monta Ellis out with nagging injuries, the Raptors looked to stem the tide of losses with a trip to the bay area. Stephen Jackson and Marco Belinelli had other ideas. With 55 points between them, this game was not settled until late into the 4th when C.J. Watson dropped a floater over Chris Bosh in the last minute. On a night when 6 Raptors had 10 or more points with Chris Bosh with 30 and Jose Calderon with 21, Kris Humprhies with 10, Jason Kapono and Joey Graham with 11, and Jamario Moon with 12, this was a very solid game offensively for the Raptors as Jose dished out 16 assists against the quicker Warriors. The difference in the game was points off of turnovers where the Raptors were -10 for the night. Though they lost a tough game, this team played tough grabbing 20 offensive boards on a night when Andris Biedrins scored 13 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and had 5 blocks after losing Jermaine O’Neal early in the game and we could find no answer for him. For being the last game of a brutal road trip, these guys played well enough to win in most aspects of the game, but allowed the Warriors to shot 50% from the floor and from outside the arc, and we won’t win many games when we allow those to both happen.
Wednesday December 31st, 2008 Raptors vs Nuggets
The Nuggets came into the game after beating the Knicks but losing to the Hawks and looked to continue to be a force in the West and showed the balance that tends to happen when your coach has 899 wins heading into the game. Tonight, the Nuggets had 7 players with 10 or more points with Nene scoring 21, Carmelo Anhthony adding 20, Kenyon Martin, Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith added 15, 18 and 16 respectively, but he damage was done by Carl Anderson with his double double off the bench and Linas Kleiza with 10 as well off the bench. Known for their love of transition ball, the Nuggets were held to 10 fast break points as the Raptors were able to control the tempo only giving up the ball 12 times on turnovers, but were quick to recover on defense to slow the Nuggets down. With Jermaine O’Neal out however, the Nuggets pushed the ball inside and attacked the rim at will and were +16 in the paint for the game. Anthony Parker had a very solid game as he started again for Jason Kapono with 12 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in one of his best games in a couple of months. Chris Bosh had another solid game with 24 points and 11 boards while Jose Calderon struggled with 11 assists but 5 turnovers and 18 points. Andrea Bargnani started at center and scored 26 points and grabbed 6 rebounds and was huge defensively with 5 blocks. Will Solomon put in 11 off the bench while Jamario Moon contributed another solid game on the boards, with 7 rebounds and 10 points on the night. The Raptors had opportunities to get the game back to level, but struggled with their outside shooting in the second half. All in all, they played well, but again allowed this team to shoot 51% from the floor. After watching Jay Triano burn a time out as they refused to push the ball inside after getting the Nuggets in bonus early in the second and they didn’t get free throws until late in the half, he yelled at the guys and sat down to let them figure out why they keep settling for jump shots in transition. As I watched, I could sense the guys finally were ready to listen to the coach. Though they lost the game, this team played hard and I think attitudes were adjusted that night, finally.
Friday, January 2nd, 2009 Raptors vs. Rockets
Too many people will say that this was a game that the Raptors won only because the Rockets are playing bad basketball right now having lost to the Bucks on New Year’s Eve. They came into the night after finishing December with a 9 – 5 record, beating teams like the Jazz and the Nuggets and the Nets, but losing to the Cavaliers and the Hornets and the Wizards. Still, they are a playoff team in the West sitting in 7th spot behind the Mavericks and still ahead of the Trail Blazers. The Raptors were missing starter Jermaine O’Neal, but welcomed Jason Kapono back to the floor after missing a couple games with a leg injury. The new starters included Andrea Bargnani in his second straight start at Center and Anthony Parker returning to play the 2 spot and Jamario Moon looking to solidify his spot at the 3 after a few good games rebounding, he looked to become more consistant at the offensive end as well. Chris Bosh played well scoring 19 points and grabbing 5 rebounds, but Jose Calderon went down in the first and left in the second quarters requiring Will Solomon and Roko Ukic to step up and provide the court leadership we would need on the night. Will Solomon responded with 8 points and 7 assists while Roko Ukic added 3 assists and 2 points. Jake Voskuhl was huge off the bench again with 8 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 points in 18 minutes on the floor. Kris Humphries and Hassan Adams both added 4 points as the team responded with solid offense and tough defense. The Rockets were held to just 34% shooting on the night while committing 22 turnovers which the Raptors took full advantage of turning those into 27 points. Andrea Bargnani looked very solid in the Center spot and had a very good game with 19 points and has begun to look like he belongs on the floor night after night finally. A much needed win by the Raptors as they not only built up a huge lead, but were able to hold on and beat a team that they should not beat. Happy New Years all around.
Sunday, January 4th, 2009 Raptors vs. Magic
Any time Dwight Howard comes to town, the Raptors seem hold their breath and Sunday was no different. With the first 9 points of the game for the Magic, he seemed on a mission to show Chris Bosh and the Raptors why this team has gone 26 – 5 since dropping the first two games of the season. 39 points were not enough to secure the victory as he was unable to make the free throws the Raptors were more than happy to surrender to him as he missed 7 from the line. The Raptors were 23 – 24 with Chris Bosh making 13 – 14 while collecting 23 points for the game. The Magic were 17 – 24 and lost by 6. There is not a lot of other reasons why this game was won or lost as the teams were pretty even though the Raptors were +6 in the paint despite 39 from Superman. Rashard Lewis scored 20 and Jameer Nelson added 15 while Hedo Turkoglu had only 9 on the afternoon. The Raptors were +8 rebounding and +2 in turnovers while Roko Ukic scored 12 and offered up 7 assists on the game, Will Solomon starting for the injured Jose Calderon had 11 points and 4 assists and was able to control the flow effectively. Anthony Parker had 26 points as he spent the afternoon scoring at will as he took the ball strong to the rim and shot 13 – 16 on the day and seems to have returned to the offensive form having had a good week at both ends of the floor. His return to form is critical for this team as the new year begins. Andrea Bargnani making his 3rd start at Center scored 18 points, grabbed 5 rebounds and added 3 assists to a balanced offense that again saw 5 guys with 10+ points.
Coming up this week are the Bucks, the Wizards and the Grizzlies, it will be interesting to see how much momentum we can carry from this week.