Week 13 saw the return of both Jermaine O’Neal and Jose Calderon as the Raptors wallowed in the midst of a 7 game losing streak. Since I have discussed the Pistons game and the Hawks game, I will focus on the Bulls and the Kings games which saw Numero Ocho return and remind us of what was missing from this lineup.
Friday, January 23rd, 2009 Raptors @ Bulls
Raptors – 114
Bulls – 94
Jose Calderon returned to the floor and quickly provided this team some much needed balance and a steady hand in the back court. He was able to connect all of the pieces of this team that looked very unsure of what was to happen next on offense. With 23 points, 10 assists and 0 turnovers, he lead this team to a 20 – 2 run late in the game to pull away. Jermaine O’Neal played again and looked a lot stronger and more sure of himself playing off the bench behind Andrea Bargnani who has been brilliant this last month while starting for the injured O’Neal. On the game, Joey Graham scored 16 off the bench while Chris Bosh had 17 points, 6 steals and 6 rebounds in a game controlled by Jose and Andrea, who had 22 points on the night. Anthony Parker had 14 points and 7 assists as our back court was just a bit better than the Bulls who’s starter, Ben Gordon and Derrick Rose scored 19 and 12 points with Kirk Hinrich adding 17 points off the bench. The game was taken over by our front line who were no real match for the Bulls smaller front court. Jamario Moon had 6 points and 5 rebounds and 2 steals on the night. Overall, a very solid team effort against a Bulls team struggling to play a consistent level of basketball every night. We needed to win, and the guys went out on the road and got one.
Sunday, January 25th, 2009 Raptors vs. Kings
Raptors – 113
Kings - 97
I know, many of you will say “It’s just the Kings, everyone can beat them” and to a large extent, that is very true. We have seen this Raptors team struggle against the “weak” teams like the Thunder and the Wizards and the Clippers this season as their lack of defensive desire seems to allow teams to hang around all game and that lack of killer instinct has been sorely missed this year. Sunday, the Kings came to town 0 – 17 against the eastern conference with a road trip that will take them to games with the Cavaliers, the Celtics and the Bulls. The first quarter the Kings came out on fire hitting 6 – 9 from outside the arc, but only went 5 – 16 the rest of the way as they seemed to play the game far away from the basket while the Raptors pounded the ball inside all evening long and were rewarded with 29 free throws hitting 25. Chris Bosh scored his 11th 30+ game with 31 points and 8 rebounds while Jermaine O’Neal had 11 points and 10 rebounds off the bench behind Andrea Bargnani who continues to play at a much higher level at both ends of the floor scored his 15th straight 10+ point game with 24 points and 7 rebounds. The Kings were lead by John Salmons with 21, Francisco Garcia with 18 points, Brad Miller with 15, Kevin Martin and Jason Thompson with 12 each. For the second straight game, the Raptors shot over 50% from the floor as Jose Calderon found open guys who were hitting shots and attacking the rim all evening. Jose has recorded 18 assists and 0 turnovers in the past 2 games. Welcome home Numero Ocho! We missed you.
This week, the Raptors have games against the Nets and Vince Carter and Brooks Lopez and Devin Harris as well as the Bucks who are without Michael Redd for the rest of the season. The still have Richard Jefferson, Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions on the floor, but these are two games we must win before next week’s murderer’s row of games against Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson and the Magic, LeBron James and the Cavaliers, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, Chris Paul, Tyson Chandler and the Hornets and the Grizzlies the following week. It should be interesting to watch this team as they look to begin the climb back up the ladder in the east. Parts of the game are still missing, but not correctable. At 18 – 28, we are not out of the playoffs yet, but unless team play improves, the playoffs will be little more than fund-raising dates.