Isn’t it great being a Raptor fan right now? One of the best teams in the NBA, and one of the best road teams, come into the ACC and the Raptors trounce them. After a first quarter where they struggled and it looked like it might be a long night for Toronto, they took charge and outscored the Mavs in every quarter after that, including the often worrisome third. I mean, come on, you had to have been a little worried when the Raptors missed their first five shots in the third quarter.
Bosh was the high scorer, and Bargnani hit some big shots, including a 30 foot fade away with the shot clock down, but Calderon was the man in this game. Without him coming in and changing the game in the second and leading the run in the third and fourth, it might have been a different outcome.
Speaking of Calderon, despite arguing in my last post that he should be starting, he’s looking very good coming off the bench right now. It’s not, however, for the reason some might say. I think he’s a better point guard than Jack and would help the team as a starter, but having him kick start the second quarter with his playmaking has been a HUGE boost for the bench, especially with Belinelli out of action the last couple of games. In the six games he’s been back from injury, the Raptors have outscored their opponent in the second quarter four times. The spark he consistently brings off the bench is something we haven’t really seen from the Raptors in a while. I think it works at the moment because the starting unit is so offensively potent and Hedo makes up for the deficiencies Jack has as a distributor.
That said, I don’t know if Calderon will, or should, come off the bench for the rest of the season. Without him in the lineup, the Raptors only reached 100 points 4 times (in 13 games). With Jose in the lineup, the Raptors have only failed to reach 100 points 5 times, and have not scored under 100 since he’s returned from injury, even against the defensive minded Celtics. For all his deficiencies, his playmaking skills are sorely underrated by many Raptor fans and the team goes through far more scoring slumps when he’s not on the floor. The first quarter against Dallas showed that. If we see more first quarters like that one, expect Calderon to be moved back into the starting lineup.
Now, I mentioned Bargnani had another good game, and regular readers of my blog will know I’ve never been a big fan of his. I’ve questioned his rebounding, his defense and his ability to score consistently. Well, his defensive play against Tim Duncan and Dwight Howard has been well documented, but he’s also boxing out better and playing defense like I hoped he would at the start of the season. The kicker? Bargnani has actually been rebounding like he’s a 7 footer. In fact, in a game like the one against Indiana when he couldn’t hit anything (4 of 14), in the past he would have been useless, but he made himself valuable by grabbing a career high 17 rebounds. Still, the fact that he’s had six games of 6 rebounds or less in the last ten shows he’s not entirely turned the corner.
And while the Raptors are still in the 6th spot behind Miami, in the East, only Cleveland has been playing better basketball than the Raptors since Christmas. Sure, Boston’s been hobbled and beat the Raptors, but the only real disappointing loss the Raptors have incurred (read the only time they lost to a worse team) since Christmas has been against Indiana. It’s actually been great to be a Raptors fan lately.
Of course, some perspective is needed. Although the Raptors currently sit only 1 percentage point below Miami for the 5th seed in the East, if they were in the West, they be below both Memphis and New Orleans, in the 12th spot. Ironically, Memphis and New Orleans are two of the three teams in the league that have a better record than the Raptors over the last 10 games. The other one? Charlotte. This is another worrisome issue. Charlotte is only a half game behind Toronto, and have beaten good teams (Cleveland, San Antonio, Phoenix and Houston) and they’ve beaten hot teams (Memphis and Chicago). In fact, the only team Charlotte played that isn’t either in the top 8 in their Conference or above .500 was New York. Who they lost to. Go figure.
OTHER NBA NOTES
How about Shawne Williams? He gets sent away by the Dallas Mavericks- paid NOT to play- and then when he is traded to the Nets, and waived, he ends up being charged on felony drug charges. Apparently he was intending to sell “a codeine-based syrup.” Excuse me? He’s probably going to jail for selling cough syrup? And exactly why would he need to be selling codeine-based syrup, anyway? Isn’t his $1.5 million salary he gets for not playing basketball enough? Maybe he’s worried about the fact that he’s probably out of the league next year and that cushy NBA salary will be gone. Then again, if he actually took his game seriously and worked on it, fulfilling some of the promise that made him a 17th pick by Indiana a few years ago, he wouldn’t be in this predicament.
Speaking of stupid, it’s almost a little disconcerting how Gilbert Arenas is being erased from the NBA. The Wizards took down all pictures of him, including a massive one outside of the arena, the NBA has excised his image on all commercials, and now Adidas has ended their `relationship’ with him. I guess he and Tiger Woods can hang out together and talk about what it feels like to shoot your own career in the head with your own stupidity.
Even with these very public examples, professional athletes will continue to behave inexplicably believing that they will never get caught. Why? Because professional sports doesn’t exactly attract the brightest people on earth. And yet, people complain Tim Duncan is boring.