Today, "Behind Enemy Lines" takes on a whole new meaning. When I came up with the title for this feature, it was meant to highlight the rivalries and match-ups the Toronto Raptors will face throughout the NBA season. Today, on Remembrance Day, we remember the men and women who fought behind real enemy lines all around the world and how their ultimate sacrifice has changed the World we live in. In 1991, the late NBA great Manut Bol saw the war in the Sudan for the first time on television and said, "The Sudan government was killing my people. I say no, this can't be right. I have to do something". He kept this promise and returned to the Sudan where he saw the overflowing refugee camps and the devastation the war brought to his people. Manut Bol even entered the war zone to help some of the Sudan's "Lost Boys" who were starving, dying and being attacked by enemy soldiers and wild animals. Manut Bol was in the Sudan some months before his death overseeing the construction of a school and stayed despite his failing kidneys and lack of proper medication to encourage corruption-free elections throughout southern Sudan. Another NBA alumnus said goodbye to charter jets and big pay cheques for 130 degree afternoons, 12 hour work days and about $2, 600 a month. Tim James is now a soldier in the U.S Army at Camp Speicher in Iraq. In 1999, he was selected 25th overall, first round by the Miami Heat. He played only 4 games with Miami over the course of his 3 year NBA career. Yet since 2006, the Miami Heat have given a center court tribute to soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan at every home game through "The Home Strong Initiative" created by Miami Heat President, Pat Riley. My heart goes out to the soldiers still fighting and to their family and friends. My deepest sympathies go out to those soldiers (and their families) who have lost their lives standing up to corruption and injustice. These are the real heroes.
In today's feature, we will be looking at the Toronto Raptors' upcoming match-ups with Orlando, Miami, Washington and Philadelphia. All of these games are on the road, so the Raptors won't be back in town until they host Houston next Friday.
Toronto Raptors @ Orlando Magic: Friday, November 12th
The last time these two teams met was January 6th, 2010. At the time, the Orlando Magic were 24-11 on the season and the Toronto Raptors were evened out at 18-18. So with the better record and starters like Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard, Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson, you would think this would be a cake walk for the Magic. Not so fast. Toronto won this contest by five points, 108-103. Not by much, but a win nonetheless. The Magic had Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard putting up 24 and 20 points respectively and playing close to 40 minutes each. The Raptors had Hedo Turkoglu and Chris Bosh also playing close to these minutes and putting a respectable 17 and 18 points on the board. Now, things have changed. The Raptors are currently 1-7 with Orlando at 5-2. Orlando still has their four big starters, although Jameer Nelson has a sprained left ankle and is day-to-day and still played against Utah Wednesday. The Raptors are minus their two big contributors from their last match-up and on this week's play alone, seem to be in serious trouble against Orlando. Unless the Raptors switch to real contender mode instead of a "re-builder" mode, they have absolutely no chance to beat the Magic.
Toronto Raptors @ Miami Heat: Saturday, November 13th
How good do you think the Raptors feel about this game? In the pre-game interviews you will hear things like "We are ready play" and "Looking forward to a great game". Translation? Holy macaroni. This will be the first game the Raptors will play against Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat since Bosh left. Now the media attention will focus to Bosh and he'll get the limelight over the other big two, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. The last time these two teams met was March 28th, 2010. Chris Bosh was playing alongside Andrea Bargnani, Atoine Wright, Jose Calderon and Sonny Weems to start for the Raptors. The Miami Heat had Dwayne Wade, Joel Anthony, Quentin Richardson, Michael Beasley and Carlos Arroyo. But if you remember this game, the Raptors held the Heat to only a 3 point win (97-94 Miami). Both had reserves putting up respectable numbers (Jarret Jack with 18 points and Udonis Haslem with 23 Miami Heat points). With a score that close and Dwayne Wade putting up 32 points that night, this game was about capitalizing on mistakes and turnovers. Will the Raptors have the same success this time around? Well, with Miami going into this game with a 5-3 record and with Bosh now on their side, it doesn't look good. On the flipside though, call me crazy, but the Raptors have to win sometime. If they choose to play to win instead of survive this game, anything is possible.
Toronto Raptors @ Washington Wizards: Tuesday, November 16th
So now Brian Colangelo and Jay Triano can have a first hand look at what might have been. John Wall of the Washington Wizards was the guy every team was gunning for and wanted on their roster. He just posted his first NBA career tripple double with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists and so far has 71 points and 31 assists to start the season. He is the 6th player in NBA history to do this in his first six games besides Oscar Robsinson. Pretty impressive right? Yes, but it gets overshadowed by his team's record so far 2-4. The Washington Wizards have a relatively new coach, although one with a lot of experience. Head Coach Flip Saunders joined the Wizards in April 2009 and has spent 14 seasons in the NBA. Before coming to Washington, he lead the Detroit Pistons to a 176-70 record from 2005-2008, the highest winning percentage of any coach in their franchise history. Should the Raptors be worried? Yes and a little no. Yes because of John Wall's hot hands and a little no because history is on the Raptors' side this time. When the Raptors and Wizards last met on February 20th, the Raptors had a 31-24 record, the Wizards had a 19-34 record and the score ended in the Raptors' favour (109-104, Raptors). I know this is still in the past and the Raptors are not starting off well but neither are the Wizards and if the Raptors have any chance of snapping their loosing streak, its with the Wizards this Tuesday.
Toronto Raptors @Philadelphia 76ers: Wednesday, November 17th
Here's another game where history is on their side but I'm not sure it will produce the same result. The Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers last met on April 3rd with the win going to the Raptors (128-123). The Raptors had a 38-37 record at the time with the 76ers struggling with a 26-50 record. The 76ers still have starters Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday, Elton Brand and Jason Kapono from that game and have now added Rookie Evan Turner who in his last three games has averaged 33 minutes and 11.3 points per game. Not bad. Do we consider the Gilbert Arena factor? And whether or not he decides to show up in mind, body and spirit? Currently, the 76ers are really no better than the Raptors with a 2-6 record. They have won one more game - big deal. If the Raptors play at full strength against Philadelphia, this will be their second real chance at winning on this road trip.
Thanks for joining me this week - see you on Tuesday for more NBA coverage in "Jiggly Bits".