Down The Stretch They Come

Honestly it does not feel that long ago that I was up in Ottawa excited about covering my first Raptors training camp. In some ways this season has flown by. In others it seems to have been long and painful especially lately. As much as I still feel the recent line-up chances were born of desperation it has has an impact. The Raptors have had better effort overall but still have had some of the same problems. Just 8 games remain for the Raptors with a 2 game lead over the Chicago Bulls. Let's take a look and see what is left for this team

@Sixers and vs Golden State

The Raptors will not over look ether of these teams or they shouldn't. Raptors dropped a contest to the Sixers that I was there for at the ACC. They also lost to Warriors on the road. These were two games that the Raptors should have won. In fact when you look back at standings it is safe to say Raptors will regret more than a few games from this season. It is why they are still not secured in the playoffs, and it seems a long shot to finish any higher than 7th. Both teams offer different challenges. The Sixers can be an athletic team like the Hawks that cause the Raptors fits. While Golden State is a team that can exploit the Raptors terrible 3 point defense and they did just that in Oakland on that west coast trip from hell.

@Cleveland, vs Boston @Atlanta

3 playoff teams here and the likely first round match-up in the Cavs. Clearly if the Raptors want to make believers out of folks it will need to happen here. The Raptors actually beat the Cavs to open this season. They had a luck of the Irish win over the Hawks and they have had no luck against Boston not just this year but for several years. These 3 games fall before a huge match-up with Bulls at the ACC. Any game the Raptors could steal of these 3 games would be helpful in turning the corner from worrying about the Bulls and focusing on trying to move up and catch the Bobcats. All 3 teams will be tough. Cleveland now has Jamison to go along with James. Boston for whatever reason just has the Raptors number. Rajon Rondo is a big reason why as he has owned Calderon for his entire career. Then all you need to say is 146 points and that says it all about the Hawks. Also keep in mind Joe Johnson did not play in that loss to the Raptors.

vs Chicago

This will likely be a huge game unless the Raptors could some how eliminate the Bulls prior to it. Derrick Rose has boldly predicted that Bull will make the playoffs. That is going to be tough to do considering the Raptors own the tiebreaker. While both teams will have pressure on them make no mistake the pressure should be more on the Bulls to get the road win. Raptors will need to have a plan to stop Rose and account for the Bulls on the glass. Even if the Raptors stub their toe in this one they have 2 games left vs non playoff teams to close out the season. But depending on how things shake out Raptors may need this game regardless to make a run at 7th.

@ Detroit vs New York

The Pistons have has a train wreck season and the Knicks are waiting for the hit summer movie that is sure to be a smash in NYC- "Waiting For Lebron". Assuming these games will still have meaning for the Raptors there is no way on earth they should lose ether of these games. If they have any ideas of stealing a playoff series both these games need to be impressive wins and feature great defensive effort. Even if they don't mean anything Raptors still need to polish things in terms of their defense and I am not sure they can afford to rest players and not show up for these games.

Expectations Killed

When you look at this sked the Raptors should expect to be 5-3 and that would give them a 42-40 record which would end up being about 3 or 4 wins below the expectations most had for the Raptors this season. That being said have the Raptors done anything according to script this season? It has been a long season that there just as been a feeling that Raptors have not lived up to the expectations placed upon them. Still if they do make it back to the playoffs that would be a step in the right direction. If not for the free agency of Chris Bosh looming large it might leave people feeling differently about things. Because playoffs or not the goal of this season is all about keeping Chris Bosh a part of this team moving forward. In terms of that many feel the Raptors have fallen short in that regard.

Bosh has talked about wanting to be a core piece on a winning team. The Raptors need a strong finish to this season and a strong playoff performance to at least give Raptors a shot to keep their star. Everyone seems to feel that Bosh's decision will be based on how this team performs in the post season assuming they get there. Which how this season has gone post All-Star break is a big assumption. It may not be just about that. However the Raptors putting their best foot forward as a team to close this season and in the playoffs is a step in the right direction. You only hope they have not taken to many steps backwards since the All-Star Break for it to matter.

There is just an odd feeling through Raptorland. Some not feeling making the playoffs matters. They think Bosh is going to go and this team will be forced to re-build. Others feeling that Raptors are heading for yet another first round disappointment. Everyone craves the same thing at the end of the day. Bosh and the fan base both want to see this team advance and take the steps to become a part of that elite group in the East. Clearly they have not got there and the difference between Atlanta, Orlando, Cleveland and even Boston is noticeable.

However things shake out it is going to be the most challenging summer of Bryan Colangelo's career as a G.M. If he can convince Bosh to stay he likely goes back to being the super genius that he was billed as when he arrived. If not he will be under an extreme amount of pressure to hide his mistakes and find a way to make this team successful in a post Bosh Era. That might just be mission impossible in my view. It get's said time and time again that Raptors can move Bosh in a sign and trade. I am convinced that is how it happens if he doesn't stay. Bosh is not leaving 30 million on the table no matter how much he may truly want to win. But can the Raptors realistically land a 1a option in a sign and trade? Seems highly unlikely when some do not even consider Bosh that 1a option himself. I think he is, but without some help around him it becomes far to easy to gang up on him and limit his impact.

We need some kind of spirit of optimism badly. It is up to the Raptors to provide some fuel for that optimism for both the playoffs and the hope to keep this franchises best player.

1 comment:

  1. James,

    This article is 100% on the money.

    Kudos to you, and keep up your good work.