Week 8 for the Raptors feels like more waves of a tsunami as we have the Nets again in Toronto, then Wednesday we host the 13 – 9 Mavericks who play the Nuggets tonight. Friday we are in Oklahoma to play the Thunder then head south to play the Spurs. Combined records of the Spurs, Mavericks and Nets – 39 – 28. We start the week 10 – 13 in 4th place in the Atlantic division and 10th overall in the Eastern Conference with the Knicks and the Bulls 1 game up and the Nets 1.5 games ahead of us for 8th spot. Considering all this team has gone through, we are still positioned well at this point and a few wins now would help not only mentally but over all in the playoff race as well.
Monday, December 15, 2008 – Raptors vs. Nets @ the ACC
Not much more to add from Friday’s game. Devin Harris and Vince Carter will have to be held to 17 points again and the Nets as a team need to be held to 31.1% shooting again. Can it happen? Sure it can. With Jose Calderon and Jason Kapono not having to guard players man on man for extended minutes, this Raptors team has developed a solid interior defense that has cut the points in the paint for the opposition to under 30 a game the past 3 games. A far cry from the almost 50 a game they were allowing. With Josh Boone back in the lineup and playing near 100% again, this will be a tougher Nets team who will be looking to rebound from the loss in New Jersey.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008 – Raptors vs. Mavericks @ the ACC
The Mavericks are sitting in 8th place in the tough western conference, .5 of a game ahead of the Suns who have 14 wins. Dirk Nowitzki is averaging 26.3 points per game and Jason Terry is averaging 20.8. Beyond those two, they have no one over 10 with Jason Kidd averaging 9.7 points per game. They have a weak spot at Center offensively but Eric Dampier continues to be a solid defender and provides them strength up the middle. With guys like Antoine Wright and Gerald Green and Brandon Bass, this team has a solid group behind Dirk and JT. This will be a huge testing game for Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Bosh and will reveal whether or not or to what extent our interior defense has developed since December 3rd.
Friday, December 19, 2008 – Raptors vs. Thunder
At 2 – 23 and only 1 game this week against the Clippers, this Thunder team has almost a week to prepare for this game. The starters look solid as a group with Kevin Durant, Jeff Green, Nick Collison, Damien Wilkens, and either Johan Petro or Russell Westbrook, this team has solid offense but struggles defensively sitting at 25th in the league in opposition scoring per game. The Raptors are currently sitting 20th which is improving every game. This is a game we should win and I look to our defense to stifle the Thunder all night long. I suspect that Jay will prepare them a bit more than that!
Saturday, December 20, 2008 – Raptors – Spurs
Rumors of the demise of this Spurs team were swirling as Manu Ginobili started the season hurt then Tony Parker went down. Too old, too slow, no one other than Manu could lead this team. Tim Duncan just wasn’t enough. Well, after 23 games, Manu is back, Tony is back and since starting 1 – 4, this team is 14 – 4 sitting third in the West with 6 straight wins over the Mavericks, the Nuggets, the Hawks, the Warriors, the Timberwolves and the Thunder. In the past 10 games they are 8 – 2 with losses to the Pistons and the Rockets. Aside from Tony and Manu and Tim, this team has more players averaging 10 or more points per game. Tony Parker averages 21.3, Tim Duncan 21, Manu Ginobili 15.5, Roger Jr. Mason 13.3 and Michael Finley averages 10.3 points per game. George Hill sits at 9.9 so that is 6 players at 10 or more points. Balance on offense and hard work on defense keeps this team at or near the top every season and why they can beat teams when one or two “star” players are not 100%. This will be a tough game for the Raptors as we don’t play well in San Antonio as a rule. The Spurs play two on the road this week at the Hornets and the Magic.
The key for the Raptors this week will be to allow the system the chance to work. Defensively we have come along way since December 3rd. We can now shut aspects of teams down and as we continue to work on the defensive game, we will develop that transition game that the good teams use to score the easy break points. Our rebounding needs to improve as it did cost us the game Sunday against the Hornets. A rebound at either end, and a couple of free throws were all we needed to win that game. Quality minutes from our bench seems to be the trend and this week we will need them to continue to improve and contribute more scoring as well as work hard defensively to keep games in check. They will not be able to let teams come back into games we are leading or let teams pull away from us and they have been doing both very well this past week.
Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal need to develop more desire to drive the ball. The 15 foot shots are nice, but they are then out of position for the short boards that often result from the mid-range shots. Andrea Bargnani will be looked to from the bench and perhaps the addition of Jake Voskuhl will add some grit underneath. Jose Calderon looks much more at ease with a guard for a coach and seems to be freer to shoot when he sees the spot. Let’s hope that guys like Jamario Moon and Jason Kapono continue their improvement and work to stick their bums on people and box out at both ends. Anthony Parker I suspect will be hard pressed to get back into the lineup any time soon as the team suffered during his minutes on the floor on Sunday afternoon. Roko Ukic looks very good and relaxed with the ball and seems to be the only one who still drives the ball on this team. Should be a very interesting week for the Raptors.