Game No. 54: Raptors 92, Bobcats 87

While Raptors fans are preoccupied with an informal tank (and rightfully so, did you watch Monday night’s NCAA Final?), you would have to assume, or at least hope, that the Raptors themselves were preoccupied with finding a way to beat the pitiful Charlotte Bobcats.

The Bobcats came into this game at 7-43 and are honestly the worst NBA team I’ve seen in my lifetime, so as much as I’m fine with racking up losses right now, my pride as a Raptors fan needed this W. You don’t want to be the team that hands the Bobcats three of their eight wins.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- There have been close losses this season against championship caliber teams that make you think the Raptors aren’t that far away from starting their climb up the NBA pecking order. But then there are wins like this against the Bobcats, where I thought the Raptors played pretty well and seemed to control the flow of the game almost all night, and yet they still needed a big final two minutes to hold off one of the worst teams in NBA history. There was a portion of the game where the Raps were shooting over 50 per cent and the Bobcats were shooting under 40 per cent but were still within two possessions. Charlotte grabbing eight more rebounds and getting to the free throw line eight more times than Toronto helped them stay in it.

2- Andrea Bargnani only grabbed three rebounds and wasn’t noticeably good on defence (though his D was passable in this game against the lowly Bobcats, which isn’t saying much), but he was very good offensively again and finished with 30 points on 50 per cent shooting. Outside of an 0-for-5 stretch at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Bargs pretty much got what he wanted on the offensive end. If you accept the fact that you’re probably not going to get very good defence from Andrea on most nights, but still want a big offensive game from him, then just watch his first few offensive touches for an answer as to whether you’ll get one. Not neccessarily whether he’s scoring or not, but rather what he’s doing with the ball.

When Bargnani’s head is in the game offensively, he seems to know what he wants to do before the ball even gets to him. His first step is a tough to guard deceiving burst and his pump fake gets defenders every time. You can usually tell when Andrea’s going to struggle from the field if he stands in one spot holding the ball just looking around to make a pass or if his pump-fake is half-assed and only confuses himself.

3- Jose Calderon only scored one point and shot 0-for-2 from the field, but he was masterful running the offence, recording 11 assists in 33 minutes without committing a turnover. It was actually Calderon who I thought got Bargnani going in the first quarter, as after Andrea had missed his first few shots, Jose started looking for him and putting him in great position for easy buckets. In addition, outside of a few lapses, Calderon was better than usual on defence, and even came up with three steals.

4- DeMar DeRozan and Linas Kleiza completed the Raptors offence for the night, combining for 38 points on 15-of-30 shooting to go along with nine rebounds. Both players played big roles in the Raptors holding off the Bobcats, as Kleiza stretched the floor with four-of-eight three-point shooting and DeRozan helped the Raps maintain their second half lead with 16 of his 20 points coming in the final 24 minutes. Kleiza had a big stretch of threes in the second quarter, while DeRozan rode a red-hot jumper for 10 points in a quick third quarter stretch.

5- Maybe I just haven’t been paying attention, but I’m pretty sure tonight was the first game where Raptors Season Seats were advertised. If you remember my post from a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that existing seat holders and those that bought at a lowered price for this season were guaranteed that same lowered price for next season as well. By the sounds of the promo Matt Devlin read tonight, outsiders/potential buyers can also purchase seats at this season’s lowered price for next season. I’ve said it before, but one of the things I’m really interested in this summer is seeing how casual fans and prospective ticket buyers react to the Raptors. Will season seat sales increase because of the Valanciunas hype, the draft hype and this season’s defensive improvement, or is it going to take a lot more and a lot longer than that?

6- With their first set of back-to-back wins in over two months, the Raptors have unfortunately climbed over the slumping Cavaliers, who have crashed back to earth with eight straight wins. A surprising Pistons win keeps Detroit 1.5 games ahead of the Raps, while the Kings and Nets are both playing as I write this. Depending on how those games finish, the Raptors could be anywhere from fifth from the bottom to tied for sixth/seventh from the bottom by the time you read this. I’ve said for the longest time that if you look at the standings, it’s pretty obvious that Toronto will likely finish somewhere between fourth-to-eighth from the bottom. Given the fact that teams can move down three spots on lottery night, the Raptors could realistically pick anywhere from first to 11th on draft night, which is actually kind of scary considering how much stock we’re all putting in this class. Basically, remaining games against the Cavs, Pistons, Bucks and Nets will be huge for tanking implications.

Bonus: How crazy is it that the Raptors are 16 games under .500, and yet they could lose all 12 of their remaining games and still finish with a higher winning percentage than they did last season?!

Raptors Player of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 34 Min, 30 Pts, 11-22 FG, 2-6 3PT, 6-6 FT, 3 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl, 2 TO

Bobcats Player of the Game: Byron Mullens – 32 Min, 20 Pts, 9-21 FG, 1-2 3PT, 1-3 FT, 14 Reb, 2 Blk, 1 TO