Before we get to basketball today just a few words on what today is in the United States. Martin Luther King was one of the many that struggled for civil rights in the 60s. He was one of the great men that lead that struggle. When I was in high school studying American History this time period was one I took particular interest in. I have always had great respect for not just King but Malcolm X and all the others that fought for the rights of African Americans. The fact we live in a time that has a black president is something that perhaps these men could not even have imagined. So take the time to learn about their struggle. Here is the most famous speech Dr. King delivered it is one of the best speeches given by any man of any colour:
So that is why I will not complain that the Raptors play at 4pm on Monday. They are in Atlanta to take on the Hawks. As mentioned when we talked with Jack Armstrong last week, the Hawks have lost an important piece to their puzzle in Al Horford. To me, Horford is the heart and soul of this Hawks team. While the Hawks have more talented players in Joe Johnson and Josh Smith they do not provide that leadership and heart that Horford does.
Smith comes in off perhaps his worst performance of the season with just 8 points in a win for the Hawks over Minnesota. While Joe Johnson remains productive but many will point to his contract and say that he should produce much more. The Hawks are a good team that has never been able to find the parts to be that great team. They come into the game today looking for their 10th win of season sitting in 5th place in the Eastern Conference. Actually sitting second in the Southeast behind Orlando not Miami. The Heat with their losing streak are a half game behind the Hawks.
As for the Raptors they continue to struggle against three things. The schedule, injuries and themselves. James Johnson the latest Raptor to catch the injury bug had x-rays on his ankle that were negative but his status for today as of right now is uncertain. The schedule is what it is and there is nothing you can do about that. But the Raptors turnovers and missed free throws along with having trouble getting to the line at all are things that they control. As Scott Carefoot in Raptor Blog referenced that 1 for 7 performance was the worst for the franchise since back in it's first season in the league. Demar DeRozan did not even get to the line in that game. This has to change fast if the Raptors hope to compete on any level.
Despite the great improvements on defence you still at the end of the day must score more than than other team to win. Turnovers and missed free throws will do nothing to help in that regard. The Raptors would be served not by the words of Martin Luther King but by those of Malcolm X as they need a win and will take it "By any means necessary." So let's get to some keys to the game.
Get There And Make It- I just went through how important it is for the Raptors to get to the free throw line and once there cash in on their attempts. This offence struggles to score at times and without Andrea Bargnani that struggle is even greater.
Battle on the Glass- Hawks are by nature an athletic team. Minus Horford they still are that. The Raptors need to fight hard on the glass and close out defensive possessions. They can not afford to give up rebounds that lead to second chances points or transition opportunities.
Transition D- The Hawks are a team that can get out and run. Josh Smith is a finisher in transition and the fewer easy points you can give up to him the better. Give yourself a chance to guard the Hawks in the half court and try to shut them down. The Raptors at times did an excellent job of this against Chicago. This was done mostly through the use of zones and the Hawks are a team that is not exactly known for 3 point shooting so it might be a good idea to go to the zone early and often today.
That just about does it. I encourage you even as Canadians to take some time to remember a great man in Martin Luther King today. His dream still lives today and it is up to all of us to keep it alive and be mindful of the past. I have friends of all colours and backgrounds. I think basketball more than perhaps any other sport is a true collection of all of these cultures. I judge people on how they treat me and not by the colour of skin or religion or anything else. That is how I was raised and is part of who I am. On a day like today it is important to reflect on those values and spread them to others. We have come a long way in terms of race relations but there are still people in this world that have not seen the light and may never see it. At the end of the day we as people can only control our own actions and our own way of life. But together we can show that we as people of any colour, race or creed can all be as one and love a sport like basketball. United by a common bond and love of something that we all share.