Kudos and congratulations to Deron and the Jazz for their resiliency versus the Raptors yesterday afternoon. They could have easily folded under the pressure of riding a 10-game winning streak into The Big Smoke but they responded with a strong 4th quarter to secure another win; their 11th in a row. Contrary to the notion that winning should get easier as you continue to get more notches under your proverbial belt, it actually gets harder to win games. The team riding the good fortune becomes the hunted and their opponent becomes the aggressor; so for 3 quarters the Raptors gave the Jazz a good run for their good fortune. With the win, the Jazz squad further solidifies their position as a playoff team and an outside contender for the Championship Trophy this year.
On the other side of things, the Raptors came into the March 8th game with a 4 game losing streak and for 3 quarters they fought valiantly. The team finally seems to be coming together (on the court) and the competition level has definitely picked up. There is no denying that they are a much better team now than 2 months ago. Unfortunately, the good play has not translated into wins yet for the Dynos. Being some one that plays a lot of basketball and loves the sport, my experience leads me to be a bit worrisome of the upcoming offseason. After a weird season by the Raps which started with high hopes, decending into confusion, resulting in losses and then a return to competitiveness, it is easy for management to be seeking an easy button (not to talk of the players). I think right now the Raptors have a good core of players and need to have a good offseason this year (drafting talent, keeping their core intact & signing key free agent[s]) to return to the playoffs.
Bosh, Bargnani, Marion, Pops, Calderon, Kapono and Anthony Parker should be brought back (although, Marion's contract desperately needs to be re-done). I like the O'Bryant pickup as well. In the offseason they need to address getting some veteran influence in the locker room (someone that will not cannibalize the development of Bosh and Bargnani), having a solid draft this year (there is so much talent for the taking this year) and, clear-cut goals have to be outlined for next season. Everyone has to buy in. Basketball, like most team sport, requires everybody to be on the same page in terms of having a shared team goal that supercedes individualism. The goals have to be getting at least 41 wins next season, having a winning home record, winning the rebounding battles, buying into a defensive concept/mindset, winning games after losses, beating any team that has a below .500 record, averaging over 20 team assists per game, reducing turnovers, winning the free throw battle every game and winning the FG% differential versus opponents. Having goals like these will give the team the identity it needs to get to the next level.
The game versus the Jazz shows how much talent the Raptors have and it also shows how inexperienced they are down the stretch. Kirilenko got a few ticky-tack (borderline suspicious) calls late in that 4th quarter and the Raptors proceeded to fold for the remainder of the game. Also, Bargnani's aggressiveness seemingly disappeared. These are troublesome occurrences indeed. With 18 games left there is hope the Raptors will start to address these issues and finish strong this year. One game at a time.
Funny side note:
For a split second right after the game, it looked like Deron Williams was pissed off at the Raptors fans for cheering a meaningless dunk by AP at the end of the game. I thought that was hilarious. Still, I felt much the same at the time too. I mean, I love the Raptors but I do not see any justification for that cheer after a painful loss like that. The only thing that matters is wins and losses; not dunks. Get it right fans - but keep cheering.
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