This is it. All of us Toronto Raptors fans knew, from the beginning of this season, which teams are our “enemies”. It’s not Philly or Boston. Our “enemy” city is New York and its two teams, the Knicks and the (Brooklyn) Nets. These are the teams that Toronto has to fight in order to get the 1st spot in Atlantic Division, which gives the secured (3rd or 4th) playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. We knew these teams will not continue to struggle all season. They have the talent to bounce back. Right now, we are feeling their “breaths”, as they hunt for the 1st spot that currently belongs to our team.
So, the time is now to send the message to our rivals. The Raps have already sent the first message to the Knicks, with the back-to-back wins on the 27th and 28th of December. It’s time to send the same message to the team from the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. This message will be sent to Atlanta too, which is currently holding the 3rd eastern conference playoff spot, where the Raptors are trying to climb.
We’ve only played once against the Nets this season. It was Tuesday, November 26th, at the ACC, and the result wasn’t the expected one (102-100 loss), even if we fought hard at the end of the game. That Nets team had a lot of injury (Deron Williams and Jason Terry) and chemistry problems, but they succeeded. Our team was a lot different than the current one, and we must admit that it was much worse. Then, the milestone date came (December the 8th) that changed the whole route of Raptors team; Rudy Gay (along with Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray) was gone, mediocrity was gone too. Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes arrived, along with attractive and winning basketball.
So this game will be extremely interesting. I must admit that in my eyes, this game is the pivotal one for the Raptors, to show what they can really achieve this season, and maybe help Masai Ujiri decide its future.
The Raps can and must win this game. And they will if the players:
1. are more physical against the Brooklyn frontcourt. Last time, Blatche had a party against our bigs with 24 points (10-16 attempts), 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocked shots. Garnett, coming from a bad stretch of games, scored 12 points on 24 minutes of play. Our bigs, especially Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson, must perform better than last time against the Nets (Valanciunas finished the game with 7 points, 7 rebounds and 2 turnovers and Amir had 6 points and 5 rebounds while playing for 32 minutes). We all hope that Tyler Hansbrough will be fit enough to fight as he knows how.
2. Don’t let Joe Johnson breathe. Joe Johnson is a killer, especially if you allow him easy shots. He scores a lot against Toronto (17.5 points last season, 21 this one). He’s also the best clutch shooter in NBA right now, so we must be extremely careful with this player.
3. Concentrate and choose the optimal plays. We don’t want to watch percentages on free throws as we saw during the game against the Heat (57.1%) or FG percentages as we witnessed during the game against Indiana (26.3% 3pt, 37% FG). We have to continue moving the ball well (we didn’t do that on Tuesday against Indiana) and find the right man to score. And last but not least, we don’t want to see players like Amir Johnson take the last shot of the game, as happened last time against the Nets. If there is a need of a 3pt play at the end of the game, Casey must make an offensive “trick” with Novak for example. Utilize this guy properly.
Hopefully, an improved Raptors team will win this one. The players must be focused the entire game. Brooklyn isn’t Washington, but it’s not Indiana either.
This is the match, IMO, that can show Masai the path he has to take. If Raptors win, then he must keep the core and make the necessary improvements for the playoffs, especially at the PG/SG and C spots. IF we lose, then this means that the team may have reached its potential. So he has any excuse to do whatever he thinks is best for the long run. If I had the power, I could choose to improve than to dissolve the roster, either way. But he’s the boss, not me, and I’m positive that he do his best to help the team, both in short-term and long-term. Right now, he, as all the fans, is at least enjoying the basketball he’s watching.
Let’s call a Raps victory by a 103-92 count.