2/5/11

Raptor Relief

Let's face it the 13 game losing streak was like a giant gorilla that was hanging on to everyone's back connected with the Raptors. While beating a team that going into last night was 2-22 on the road, and sits last in Western Conference is not reason to have a party or anything. But just to finally put an end to this losing streak was a giant relief and it could been seen on the faces in the locker room post game. Amir Johnson maybe most of all you can feel happy for as he has played through injuries and pain and performed well despite the losing skid. So I asked him the obvious question of how it felt to remove this giant weight off the team's back and his own.

" You mean the loses...It feels good but we need to continuing winning. This is only one game, I guess it is a stepping stone for us. We just need to continue playing hard and keep fighting." Johnson said. He has been playing through so much and it reminds me of the way Alvin Williams use to be in which you would need an army to keep him out of a game. Amir was interested by the comparison, and truthfully for those that can remember how Alvin was, it is one of the highest compliments you could pay someone on this team in my opinion. But Johnson is very matter a fact about the whole thing saying " It is just my personality and my attitude." Johnson continued on to say " I know we had a bunch of injuries. I know we are short. I didn't want to be a player that went down. I wanted to help my team get a win."

While many may question the contract that Johnson got from the Raptors in terms of dollars maybe even the term of that contract. No one can question that he is giving all he has in terms of trying to earn every cent of it. When asked by Holly Mackenzie on why he unlike some other players that have signed big deals, to paraphrase Holly, kind of took their foot off the gas pedal that in that first year of a new contract. She asked why it was different for him and his response was just simply that's me. While you can debate the logic in terms of cap space and what not. You can not really measure what it means to have a guy that plays with such heart and desire every single night. Johnson has done that and along with Sonny and Demar reached out to Raptor fans and tried to embrace them and the city. Something that is needed in what is a tough time for this franchise. But Amir would appear to be a part of it's future and you have to respect all he has done even in these tough times for this basketball team.

Speaking of Demar DeRozan I asked if Sonny Weems was coming along for the ride again for the dunk contest. Last year the dunk he did working with Weems went off the side of the backboard to be finished by DeRozan which earned him a 50. The only perfect score of last year's Dunk Contest. Need a reminder?




But Demar informs me that it will be the other Young One this time, and also from L.A in Amir Johnson that will be coming along with him to All-Star Saturday Night in L.A. What will those two cook up is to be seen. But we had talked to Demar about it, at the time not getting into the Dunk Contest in the DNB, and he said that if he were to get in some how he could come up with a couple ideas. So seemed reasonable to ask how that was going, as his "Coach" for the event Darryl Dawkins was just in Toronto the other day. "It is coming along, I got some good ideas yesterday.I worked on a few dunks." said DeRozan. The Raptors have today off and if you are looking for Demar he is likely hard at work on his plans of beating Blake Griffin. "Since we have the day off I will probably come in and work on a few dunks."

As for the Raptors DeRozan's take on losing streak being over was this "It definitely felt good. Now we are trying to get a win streak going and feed off of that." That might be easier said than done. After a road game with the Bucks on Tuesday the Raptors face the Spurs, Clippers and Heat at the ACC prior to the All Star Break. But if there are going to do it, they will need they the type of play they got from the starting 5 they had last night. DeRozan was encouraged by how the starting unit played having this to say. "We needed that. We definitely were fighting for it. I think that is how we got to play from on because it is fun when we can go out and play like that." There is no question winning is more fun. But for the winning to continue it will take more performances like that to achieve it. The one thing that is clear about this Raptor team is that no one guy is going to be able to do it on his own. Not even Bargnani or DeRozan with out help from the other or the rest of this squad is to the point they can carry a team.

Sonny Weems has been back in the mix. For the first time last night it really looked like the old Sonny Weems we saw near the start of this season. DeRozan is obviously the closest to him on the Raptors so I asked how it felt to see Sonny looking more like himself on the floor. " I still don't think he is to 100% yet. But he is definitely looking good. Once he gets back to playing how I know he can play it is going be great to see." It is also going to be important to see as well S Weems is the one member of the Young Onez that is not under contract for next season. How he plays down the stretch of this year will impact on his future as a Raptor. Obviously DeRozan and Johnson will be leading the rooting section for him to play well and hopefully remain a part of the roster.

Sonny was singing in the locker room after the game that is a clear indication more than anything that the mood has changed for the Raptors. It has been a very tough year for everyone with this team but to their credit they keep fighting hard and were rewarded for it finally with a win. There is a lot of work to be done to improve this team but the group that is the Young Onez have a good attitude about it, and keep fighting an uphill battle with every thing they have. For their sake and everyone else you hope they can improve and help comes along to make this team stronger overall. Calderon and Bargnani both played well and were able to play with the group and give the Raptors a solid effort from their starting 5. While ultimately this is not likely your starting 5 going into the future. All of these guys will need to continue to play well and improve. Calderon and Weems futures might be in some doubt. Weems with his contract and a choice to be made by the Raptors and himself, and Calderon still likely could be moved you could speculate, if the right deal came along or the Raptors were able to find a point guard either in Bayless as a starter or through the draft or trade.

While Lebron and Chris Bosh might have quit on Cleveland and Toronto. The Cavs may have quit on Cleveland altogether. Here in Toronto the Raptors have not quit and remain fighting in a battle that this season is likely not one they can win. But you hope that in doing so it helps grow a mentality that can see them through in future years. I am not going to say that the Raptors can win on February 16th as the Bosh return looms closer. But here is what I can say. Toronto fans will bring it way more in comparison to what the people in Cleveland did, and this team will not lay down and die in playing the Heat. They will fight and give all they have. Which at the end of the day probably isn't enough but that won't stop them from trying. There are no wins based on effort alone, but it is a part of how you get there. Last night the effort was rewarded with a W. Which was a huge relief for everyone from in that locker room to all of you reading this.

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