NBA Today: No Relief for the Raps
Ah yes…the Toronto Raptors are done the ever-difficult Western swing – a trip exacerbated this season by the team’s struggles – finally coming home on New Year’s Eve to begin a mini home stand. Home cooking should get them off the schneid, right? Uh, not when it’s Denver (who took out Toronto on New Year’s Eve), Houston (Friday) and then Orlando on Sunday. When this team heads back out of the road next week, they could be staring at a 10 games under .500 hole. It’s a damn good thing the Raps are in the East, where they sit just 2.5 games out of a playoff spot. Still, any way you slice it, this season has been an unmitigated disaster, and a coaching change hasn’t helped.
This team is in free fall, having dropped 13 of its last 17 games, sinking to the bottom of the Atlantic Division standings. It’s a major disappointment for a club that won the division two years ago and has reached the postseason for the past two seasons. If Toronto doesn’t pull itself out of this tailspin pronto, that mini streak will come careening to a halt.
On the plus side, the Raps’ main man is coming out of his funk. Chris Bosh has looked much better the past three games, averaging 27.7 PPG. In his last two, he’s averaged 12.5 RPG and has a steal and block in each game. The All-Star started the season like a man possessed, but Bosh looked very ordinary for most of December until his recent flourish. CB4 has bounced back nicely from what was somewhat of an off year last season. He’s averaging a career high 16.5 FGA per game and is back to being a 10 RPG dude. Let’s pray that Bosh’s recent turnaround will help spark a similar turnaround for Toronto before it’s too late.
Of course, coming home isn’t necessarily the tonic for what ails the Raps. After winning 55 of 82 home games during the past two seasons, Toronto has struggled to a 5-9 mark at the ACC this season, including dropping its past four there. Ugh. This is the worst slump the team has had at home since April 2006. And with Houston and Orlando on the dance card next, this skid could reach half a dozen very shortly. Small wonder the hometown crowd has been booing lately – something that Bosh hasn’t reacted well to, and may very well affect his long-term future in TO.
On the plus side, the Raptors have won four of their past five home games against the Rockets. And with three losses in its past five, Houston isn’t exactly problem-free these days. So there is hope.
Jermaine O’Neal missed Wednesday’s game with a sore knee and is considered day-to-day. He was able to participate in Thursday’s practice, but in a limited manner (he didn’t run at all, working only on his shooting). Toronto really needs J.O. back and healthy, as he was starting to roll before his latest knee woe. In the four games prior to him getting hurt, O’Neal averaged 25 PPG, and in the last three he picked up six steals. Saturday, in his final game before getting hurt, O’Neal had three blocks. He was able to handle more PT in December and his shooting touch and scoring have been getting better all season. Overall, O’Neal has been playing more but, having to defer to Bosh, his touches are down slightly from his days in Indy. Still, O’Neal is showing a better touch from the field than he has in several seasons, and that’s resulted in a slightly better offensive season from him. The knee remains a concern (he’s up to five games missed for the season now), so if he gets on another roll like he did before he got hurt, get ready to offer the six-time All-Star up in a deal.
With O’Neal out, Andrea Bargnani got the start at centre, and man did he ever respond, enjoying one of his finest all around games this season with a game-high 26 points – only three points shy of his career best. He added six boards, five blocks, three treys, two steals and an assist in the losing effort. If he’s been dropped in your league (which is rather likely considering how little PT he got and how poorly he played in December), may I suggest giving Il Mago another chance? The fact that he took a season-high 19 shots on Wednesday, responding with his first game of at least 20 points since November 21, was an extremely promising sign. Yeah, we’ve all lived with his tremendous inconsistency, but the upside remains huge. And remember that earlier this season, Bargnani actually did show a bit of consistency, so we know he can do it. Sort of.
Another Raptor who is turning it on lately is Jose Calderon. In his last two games, he’s averaged 19.5 PPG, 13.5 APG and 5.5 RPG. On Wednesday, he was a perfect 4-for-4 from behind the arc and – naturally – he sunk both his free throws. The Spanish Fly has not missed a FT in 75 straight trips to the line, dating back to last season. Holy money in the bank, Batman. Calderon’s assists have dropped steadily since the beginning of the season, so it’s nice to see a couple of huge lines from him. On the plus side, his scoring – thanks to some awesome shooting in December – bounced back after a poor November.
It certainly stands to reason that with the key Raptors turning things around, it’s just a matter of time before this team starts winning. At least it freaking better well be.
Don’t give up on Anthony Parker just yet. I picked him up last week, dropping Roger Mason because I (a) liked the Raptors’ upcoming schedule better than that of the Spurs; and (b) thought the positional flexibility of Parker would help me. It’s a gamble that didn’t look good until Jason Kapono got hurt and Parker got his starting gig back. He responded with a solid 12 points, six assists, four rebounds, three steals and two 3-pointers. Could Parker keep the starting gig? I think it’s worth taking another look at him to find out – especially with the Raptors in the middle of the first of four straight four-game weeks. January could be a very good month for fantasy owners of Raptor players.