Archive for the ‘Tank Nation’ Category

Game No. 63: Heat 96, Raptors 72

The Heat rested Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for this one, and you can’t really blame them considering that they’re concerned with the postseason and winning a championship, not with being at full strength for a meaningless April game against the 22-win Raptors.

The Raps actually looked capable of hanging with the LeBron-led Heat in the first half, but put up a historically bad stinker of a second half (more on that later) to ensure loss No. 41.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- I mentioned the historically bad second half sinking the Raptors, but I don’t think just using the words “historically bad” does those 24 minutes of Raptors “basketball” justice. The Raps headed into the break down 51-49, and were pretty much matching the Heat blow for blow, if not taking the game to them in the first two quarters. They then came out and put a measly 11 points on the board in the third quarter, and barely topped themselves with 12 more in the fourth quarter. 23 points in 24 minutes – the worst second half offensive performance in Raptors history, and tied for the worst half in franchise history. Miami’s defence can be scary good at times, and it was definitely stingy on this night, but make no mistake, the Raptors’ offence was downright ugly in that second half. My original online feed actually cut out midway through the third quarter, and I assume it was just the Basketball Gods trying to save me from one of the worst hours of basketball I’d ever see.

2- If there was one positive from this pitiful performance, it was the production the Raptors got from the small forward position, as Alan Anderson and James Johnson combined for 33 points on about 47 per cent shooting (14-of-30), though obviously, much of that damage was done in the first half, when the Raps actually looked like a professional basketball team. I don’t anticipate many new storylines coming up in the last week of the Raptors’ season, but I am interested in seeing if Anderson can continue to build on his surprising performance with Toronto, and if he can actually win himself a spot on the Raptors’ roster next season.

3- I’ve given the Raptors’ bench bigs some praise recently – heck, I even gave Solomon Alabi some love on Monday night – but the big men were a big weakness in this game. Amir Johnson, Aaron Gray, Ed Davis and Alabi combined for just 15 points, 15 rebounds, five blocks, two assists and one steal. Again, those are the combined numbers of four players.

4- A few words on the Heat. I didn’t pick Miami to win the NBA championship this season (and I actually picked the Bulls to win the East), but anyone who’s totally writing them off on the foolish premise that they’ve struggled at times during the regular season and because they aren’t exceptional on the road is dreaming. In case you forgot, this team never looked particularly sharp last season, and then proceeded to cruise through the first three rounds of the playoffs, including a dominating performance by LeBron and co. at Chicago in the Eastern Conference Final. I’ll stick with my prediction of Chicago taking the East crown this season, because I actually believe the Bulls are the best team in the East, but I’m not naive enough to think Miami’s random “troubles” at various times during the regular season are an indication of an early playoff implosion either.

5- Sticking with the Heat, I’ll come right out and say it: If you don’t think LeBron James is the MVP this season, you need some sort of psychiatric evaluation, or you’re hate is clouding your judgement. Either way, you’re way, wayyy off. If LeBron were having a legendary season for a team on the outside of the playoff picture, or a team on the playoff bubble, I could see justification for going with Kevin Durant for NBA MVP. But the fact is that James is averaging 27 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two steals and nearly a block per game for a team that would be on pace for about 60 wins in a regular 82-game schedule. Add to that the fact that he has a ridiculous Player Efficiency Rating over 30, which is far and away better than anyone else in the Association, and you can see why LeBron’s 2011-2012 season is seen by many as one of the greatest regular seasons we’ve ever seen. I’ll be the first to admit that I hated “The Decision,” and I’ve taken exception with a lot of things LeBron has said since then, but you can’t hold those things (or his 2011 Finals performance) against him in judging his remarkable feats this season. He’s the MVP this year. Case closed.

6- If you take a look at the Raptors’ upcoming schedule, you’ll see that Wednesday night’s contest in Miami was likely Toronto’s last game against a winning team this season (unless the Bucks finish with a winning record), and if I just counted correctly, the Raps will finish with an abysmal 11-29 record against winning teams. While they often performed well above our expectations in most of those 40 games, many Raptors fans will look at that record from a “Tank Nation” perspective and say it’s to their liking. If you look at the standings with a week to go, you’ll notice that unless the pathetically tanking Cavaliers and Kings win a few games, the Raptors will likely end up finishing somewhere between sixth from the bottom and ninth from the bottom (and they could still finish 10th from the bottom if the Timberwolves don’t win another game), so to be honest, I think it’s time to put the whole Tank Nation thing to bed. Let whatever is going to happen over the next three games happen, and we’ll see where that lands us come next Thursday night, and come the lottery in May.

Raptors Player of the Game: James Johnson – 25 Min, 18 Pts, 7-12 FG, 1-2 3PT, 3-3 FT, 6 Reb, 2 Ast, 3 Stl, 1 TO

Heat Player of the Game: LeBron James – 30 Min, 28 Pts, 12-15 FG, 1-1 3PT, 3-4 FT, 5 Reb, 4 Ast, 2 Stl, 5 TO

As most of us predicted would happen, Andrea Bargnani has been officially shut down for the remainder of the season because of his recurring left calf issues.

As the Raptors’ official media release stated, “Based on tests taken yesterday on his left calf and the reoccurrence of previous symptoms, Bargnani will be sidelined to eliminate any further risk.

This is pretty cut and dry if you ask me. Bargnani looked phenomenal in 11 games before his calf acted up, looked just as good in two games upon his initial return to the lineup, but then looked way too much like his old self in the last 18 games he played.

The timing of shutting him down now is obviously beneficial for Bargnani and the Raptors in general. Whether you agree with it or not, Andrea figures to be a big part of the Raptors’ plans next season, and you don’t want him showing up to training camp in October with the same lingering calf problems haunting him for the next couple of years all because you played him in some absolutely meaningless games with your team already well eliminated from playoff contention.

In addition, teams like the Warriors, Cavaliers, Nets and Kings (not to mention the Hornets, Wizards and Bobcats) are giving new meaning to the work “tank,” and while I don’t think Bryan Colangelo and Dwane Casey would purposely lose games, I do think the organization is okay with games being a little tougher to win down the stretch, if you know what I mean.

Lastly, if you’re trying to sell Bargnani as an integral piece of the future to a fanbase that has largely grown tired of the big Italian, sitting him now leaves you with the opportunity to blame his decline on the persistent calf issues. At least one person from the organization this off-season is going to talk about how good Andrea looked before the injury set in. And who knows, maybe calf tightness really is what caused a revert back to his older ways (majorly wishful thinking)?

With minor issues (eye, knee and back) slightly hampering Jose Calderon, Linas Kleiza and Amir Johnson right now as well, the next seven games, especially games against the Pistons and Nets, might look more like an episode of Greatest Tank Battles.

Have you listened to our latest installment of RaptorBlog Radio yet? Jerryd Bayless joined us to talk about his season and his future with the Raptors, and we debated the Ed Davis situation.

Game No. 58: Pacers 103, Raptors 98

The Pacers are a legitimate threat to win a playoff series in the Eastern Conference, while the Raptors are a surefire lottery team when healthy, so without Andrea Bargnani on the road in Indiana, no one expected much of anything from “Toronto’s other team” playing on Monday night.

Credit the Raptors for fighting to cut a 16-point deficit down to two in the fourth quarter and making the finish somewhat exciting, but did anyone feel the result was ever really in doubt?

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- With Andrea Bargnani missing his 27th game of the season with calf issues, Amir Johnson got the nod as Bargnani’s replacement in Toronto’s starting lineup. Amir responded with a solid outing of 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting to go with seven rebounds, three assists and a steal. By and large, Amir has been underwhelming this season, and one of the areas of his game I would have liked to see more of was his improved offence from last season. The 16 points came in a losing effort in a meaningless April game, but nonetheless, it was nice to see from him against a good opponent.

2- The Raptors’ other power forward, Ed Davis, put up some very solid numbers in very limited minutes, again. Davis posted a double-double of 11 points (on 5-of-7 shooting) and 10 rebounds in just 17 minutes of action. As I mentioned in Friday’s recap, Davis has been quietly picking up his play of late, but hasn’t been rewarded with extended minutes yet. In his last six games, Ed’s averaged about seven points and eight rebounds in just over 20 minutes. It’s too late into the season to be convinced one way or another by a good individual stretch or a slump, but I’d still like to see Davis get some major minutes down the stretch, especially with Bargnani out.

3- One guy we know was in Dwane Casey’s temporary dog house was James Johnson, who has now played two games since his benching. Johnson was active when he hit the floor tonight in Indy, and came up with two big blocks, but he hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire since his return to the lineup on Sunday in Oklahoma City. I wasn’t expecting James to put up huge numbers, but I was hoping his play forced him back into the starting five over 10-day man Alan Anderson. I don’t know that he’s done that.

4-Leandro Barbosa was a factor for the Pacers in this one, scoring 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting in 23 minutes off the bench for Indy. When the Raptors traded Leandro at the deadline, a few people discussed the possibility of Toronto bringing him back as an unrestricted free agent this off-season, which isn’t a stretch considering Bryan Colangelo’s relationship with the Brazilian Blur and how much he reportedly loved the city. As it stands right now, the Raptors have no guaranteed guard scoring punch off the bench for next season, as Jerryd Bayless isn’t certain to be back, and you can’t count on Gary Forbes for consistent production. If the Raps are still looking for that bench production in July, I’d be fine with bringing Barbosa back at a reasonable price. As frustrating as his shot selection sometimes is and as out of control as he sometimes plays, Barbosa has game-changing offensive ability off of the bench, and that’s something teams quickly realize they need when they don’t have it.

5- 11,021. That’s how many people came out to watch this game in Indiana. That’s it. In short, this is mind boggling to me. The Pacers used to have a great fan-base during their run of contention through the 1990′s and early 2000′s, and while I know the 2011-2012 edition of the team is a mere shadow of the Reggie Miller-led squad of days gone by, they are still a legitimate playoff team and one that can make some post-season noise over the next couple of years. They may not have a superstar, but they’re talented enough, they’re deep, they work hard on the court, they supposedly have one of the nicer arenas in the NBA and they currently sit third in the Eastern Conference at 35-22, winning 19 of 27 games at home. And yet the Pacers sit 29th in the Association with an average attendance of 14,209. Is ‘disappointing’ a strong enough word to describe the lack of hometown support this Pacers team is receiving?

6- One thing I mentioned on Friday night when the Raptors blew what looked to be a sure win against the Cavaliers is how quickly a would-be four game winning streak could turn into a lengthy losing streak. Losses against the Cavs, Thunder, and now Pacers have the streak at three already, and if you look at the Raps’ upcoming schedule and consider that Andrea Bargnani is currently sidelined, you can see why Tank Nation has suddenly been reinvigorated. The team’s next five games are all against playoff opponents (vs. 76ers, vs. Celtics, @ Hawks, vs. Hawks, @ Heat) and their last road game of the season is in Milwaukee, where the Bucks could be playing for their playoff lives. From a realistic standpoint, a game at Detroit and the season finale against the Nets may be Toronto’s final two opportunities for wins this season.

Raptors Player of the Game: Amir Johnson – 33 Min, 16 Pts, 7-9 FG, 1-1 3PT, 1-2 FT, 7 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 Stl

Pacers Player of the Game: George Hill – 36 Min, 18 Pts, 5-9 FG, 1-3 3PT, 7-7 FT, 7 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 Stl

Game No. 56: Cavaliers 84, Raptors 80

The Raptors had a legit chance to take a four game winning streak into Oklahoma City this Sunday, but instead, they used their favourable matchup with the Cavaliers to start what could be a lengthy losing streak (check their upcoming schedule).

The Raps controlled this snooze fest for three quarters, but put together one of their worst fourth quarters of the season to throw what looked like a surefire win away. If you’re a TankNation subscriber, I guess this loss makes up for the unexpected win in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Now here are some thoughts on the game:

1- I know now that we’re more than three months and 56 games into the season, a lot of people are getting sick of all the “tank” talk. But come on, did you see the starting lineups for this game? Let me throw some names at you: Donald Sloan, Manny Harris, Alan Anderson, Ben Uzoh. For various reasons, those four guys all started on Friday night. With all due respect to those players, this game could have passed for an episode of Greatest Tank Battles.

2- Aside from the low talent level in the ball game, the game itself was an absolute dud. There was no energy, no flow, an inconsistent effort, and the two teams combined to shoot an atrocious 56-of-146 from the field. Credit the 16,565 in attendance for manufacturing their own excitement the few times the Raptors gave them even an inkling to cheer for, but in all honesty, they would have been forgiven if they up and left midway through. It’s not like they were going to get their money’s worth from the game itself anyway. Byron Scott’s ejection in the second quarter was by far the most exciting couple of minutes all night.

3- I mentioned above that Alan Anderson started at small forward again, marking the second straight start for the 10-day man (Anderson and Uzoh were each given a second 10-day contract on Friday). James Johnson, on the other hand, was a DNP-Coach’s Decision for the second straight game. We know an “internal” matter caused Johnson’s benching on Wednesday, but we’ve all been led to believe the issue between James and Dwane Casey is a minor one, so it was definitely surprising to see Johnson riding the pine for 48 minutes again. Whether or not the small forward sees the floor on Sunday in OKC is now the definite storyline of that game from a Raptors’ perspective.

4- Another Raptor who seems to be in Dwane Casey’s dog house is Ed Davis. I’ve generally agreed with how Casey has allocated minutes this season, but I’m a bit puzzled by the treatment of Davis. Don’t get me wrong, Ed’s been a disappointment in his sophomore season, but in the few instances he has put a good string of games together, he doesn’t really seem to get rewarded with extra minutes. Davis pulled down an impressive 14 rebounds in just 25 minutes on Wednesday in Philly, and was one of the few players on the court bringing a consistent effort against the Cavs. Ed had six points, seven rebounds and a block in 18 minutes on Friday, and sparked the team in the third quarter, but when Aaron Gray fouled out in the fourth quarter, Casey elected to go with Amir Johnson, who was the vastly inferior player in this game. I’m at the point where I think Casey is trying to send a message. Does anyone else see it?

5-¬†Andrea Bargnani’s final statline of 19 points, seven rebounds, two assists and two steals seems decent at first glance, but when you consider that Bargnani had 13 points in the first quarter and hit his first six shots, then his line of 19 points on 8-of-22 shooting shows you the massive letdown that his overall game was on Friday.

6- An otherwise outstanding defensive performance was spoiled by a horrible fourth quarter for the Raptors. Toronto held Cleveland to just 51 points on 29 per cent shooting through three quarters (a combination of solid Raptors’ defence and half-assed Cavaliers’ offence), but allowed the Cavs to shoot 9-of-14 for 33 fourth quarter points to erase a 12-point deficit heading into the final frame. The tide began to turn when the Raptors left Antawn Jamison wide open behind the arc on three straight possessions. Jamison would go on to score 16 of his 25 points in the fourth.

Bonus: At 20-36, the Raptors still sit seventh from the bottom in the standings, just a half-game ahead of the fourth worst record, but also only two games behind the ninth worst record. That’s the difference right now between heading into the lottery with the guarantee of getting a top-seven pick or the uncertainty of being able to fall all the way down to 12.

Raptors Player of the Game: DeMar DeRozan – 38 Min, 28 Pts, 10-16 FG, 1-2 3PT, 7-8 FT, 4 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 Blk, 4 TO

Cavaliers Player of the Game: Antawn Jamison – 39 Min, 25 Pts, 8-16 FG, 3-5 3PT, 6-8 FT, 8 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Blk, 1 TO

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