Andrea Bargnani was well enough to go shake hands and kiss babies at All-Star weekend, but it would appear is not ready for basketball still. When exactly do we start to worry about this? The rest of the Raptors who won just their 4th game without him before the break have re-assembled in Houston. Not sure how many people saw the Rockets being so successful so fast in the post Yao era. Pretty sure not to many people saw Kevin McHale as a great hire. He was not exactly a great GM in Minnesota. He had two stints behind the bench as well in Minnesota with little success. In 2004-05 he was 19-12 and had a second tour of duty in 08-09 went 20-42. After taking a couple season off in the media working for NBA TV he was hired by the Rockets. Yet the Rockets sit at 20-14 coming out the All-Star Break sitting in 6th in the West.
The Rockets only representation at the All Star Game in Orlando was Chase Budinger in the dunk contest. How he got hooked up with P Diddy is another story for someone else to care about. On paper you look at this Rockets line-up and it has a few nice pieces, but it does not scream Western Conference Playoff team. They have Kevin Martin who they acquired from the Kings. He is there leading scorer with 18 a game. Some felt Kyle Lowery deserved a trip to Orlando. He has had a solid season. Luis Scola has always been a nice big body to have. They did land Samuel Dalembert in free agency. The rest of the roster is a collection of cast offs from other organizations. Like Courtney Lee, Goran Dragic, Johnny Flynn to name just three. They also have a few draft picks from last few years in Patrick Patterson and Jordan Hill and former Nets draft pick Terrence Williams.
Still it seems hard to figure out how this team wins. The Raptors have the unfortunate case of playing them in Houston where they are 14-4 and they headed into the break winning 7 of their last 10. Raptors were playing good basketball for most of their home stand but ended up 2-5. We mentioned Bargnani but Linas Kleiza has been out the last couple games as well, we will see if he is in the line-up tonight.
Jose Calderon was the most consistent player in the recent home stand with a few games scoring out of his mind. Trade rumors continue to circle around him and the Raptors continue to deny they are shopping him. They do admit that they are answering the phone when teams call. Leandro Barbosa is also likely getting some interest as well. There will be no all day trade deadline show for the NBA so we will inform you that the trade deadline in NBA is March 15th. Orlando was a team that was rumored to have interest in Calderon. But they have denied that. The Lakers might have some interest in a point guard and a guy like Barbosa wouldn't hurt them either. But unless Calderon is demanding to leave, the Raptors need to see a young point guard with upside coming back the other way. It seems unlikely they move Calderon this season given that fact. Barbosa is likely going to go to the highest bidder at the end of the day. If he were to fetch the Raptors a late first round pick or early second round pick that would be considered a win for them. It would bring a name like Myck Kabongo into the mix when you start talking draft and point guards. Kabongo is a freshman at Texas and most feel he will enter the draft. This despite having a season with the Longhorns that did not match the high expectations people had for him this season. The Raptors never had a shot at Tristan Thompson and claim that even if they did, they were not going to select him. They got their guy in Jonas. If Kabongo was on the board with a second draft pick it would be interesting if they passed on him as well being another hometown product.
We still have 33 games before we have to worry about the draft though. The Raptors 10-23 record sees them with the 5th worst record in the NBA. Washington, Charlotte and New Orleans I would think all finish worse off than the Raptors which would leave them at best 4th worst. Raptors could actually have a better chance of dropping to worse position by doing the unthinkable and winning some games. Teams like the Pistons, Kings and Nets are all right around the Raptors in the standings. When you examine the Raptors schedule it is a lot easier to see some wins for them especially once Bargnani were to return. I would think at the end of it all they exceed my 20 win forecast for them at the start of the season.
3 Keys for Tonight:
1. Aggressive Demar: This second half of the season we need to see a much more consistent DeRozan. He had a very up and down first half. It would be nice to see him start the half being aggressive and play well on both ends of the floor.
2. Battle The Bigs: Raptors need to get on the boards and compete on the glass. Scola and Dalembert will offer problems on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor on the glass. The Rocket average 42.5 rebounds a game.
3. Shake off the Rust: Raptors had a lot of time to practice prior to the All-Star break that might help them be a little more sharp coming off the All-Star break than the average team. In a season of few practices the Raptors have had quite a few based on the schedule of late.