Back to back games in Florida this season not only means playing against two of the top teams in the East over the course of two nights but, for the Raptors, also means going against the Raptors the two best players in the history of the franchise, and, not coincidentally, two of the most despised ex-Raptors in franchise history.
I’m sure most Raptor fans took great delight in the former Raptors scoring a combined 22 points while both appeared visibly frustrated. In fact, Bosh sat on the bench for most of the fourth and looked thoroughly displeased despite the win, which I’ll discuss later.
Carter had a slightly better game in Orlando, but was on the losing end of possibly the best Raptor game of the season, so far. While Carter looked like a shadow of his former self, he looked like a rather big shadow. Did anyone else notice that Vince’s jersey seemed to be a little, well, full? Considering his reputation for not exactly be a workhorse off the court, isn’t Vince the type of guy you can see gaining a ton of weight once he retires?
And while the Raptors were missing 3 key rotation players for both games, their impressive depth meant they didn’t skip a beat. The three top scorers in both games were Bargnani, DeRozan and Weems, who is taking full advantage of starting in place of the injured Kleiza. While Bargnani and DeRozan’s scoring was expected, Weems might end up making Triano think hard about what to do when Kleiza returns. In his last 4 games, Weems is shooting 65% from the field and is actually passing the ball well. In fact, Weems dished out 5 assists against Miami. At the beginning of the season, Weems never looked comfortable and appeared to be forcing everything. The promise he showed at the end of last season seemed to wear off, but he’s really made strides this month.
DeRozan stuggled a bit defensively against Miami, but put together back to back 20+ point nights for the first time in his career. Even more impressive was that they were on back-to-backs against two of the best teams in the East. What is probably the most encouraging this is how DeRozan played in the fourth quarters against Orlando and Miami. He was probably the best Raptors on the floor in those quarters and shot 10-16, while playing aggressively and doing the little things to help his team compete. DeRozan will have his ups and downs this season, but he’s shown real promise, so far.
Bargnani had a stunning 1st half, at least on offense, against Orlando and then proceeded to stink it up in the second half. He missed everything, turned the ball over and looked to be a completely different player. Against Miami, he didn’t hit a single shot in the first or third quarters, but went 4-6 in both the 2nd and 4th quarter. A rather odd statistic. While Bargnani scored well in both games, and even grabbed 9 boards against Miami, he took 23 shots each game, only getting to the line 4 times in each game. So far this season, Bargnani is averaging 17.5 shots per game, but has only had 3 games where he took fewer than 17 shots. With Bosh gone, the feeling was that the Raptors would have to spread the shots around a bit more, and that is true to a degree, but Bargnani is taking more shots per game than Bosh did.
Amir Johnson, after struggling to start the season, has started to look like the player who deserved the big contract he signed this summer. It’s looking more and more evident that he should be starting full time, like he did against Miami. While Reggie Evans is obviously a boost on the boards and in the hustle department, his incredibly poor offense hurts the team. While I understand Triano wanting Johnson’s energy coming off the bench, which was missed against Miami, it’s probably best for the team to have him starting, at least until Ed Davis returns.
Calderon had two very good nights and has now gotten a lot of fans calling for him to start and for Jack to be traded. Ah, Raptor fans. More on that in an upcoming post.
So while Toronto lost against Miami, the Florida swing has to be looked at as a success. If they continue to play like that did, they will start to garner some respect around the league, even if they don’t get a lot of wins. Learning to play hard every night is the first step. The second step is learning how to win.
Since we’re on the subject of Miami, what is up with LeBron complaining he is playing too many minutes? When he and his two buddies signed with Miami, was he not aware there would be the potential that Miami would have to fill the roster with some subpar players since they pretty much used up most of the money? Okay, they were able to get more quality players than I, or most others, anticipated, but the fact is they are not a deep team and LeBron HAD to have known that.
And as I mentioned before, Chris Bosh does not appear to be a happy camper in Miami. While I never wished him ill will or had much of a problem with him deciding to leave Toronto, it’s hard to feel sorry for him, despite quite a bit of criticism in the press, including more and more people talking about how he might not fit in and might be traded. In the game against Toronto, Bosh apparently sulked on the bench, even while his teammates celebrated the occasional play while Jack Armstrong mused how Pat Riley would feel about seeing that. It would be a monumental disaster for Bosh if Riley decided to trade him, but looking at what has happened so far, it would be hard to blame Riley if he did. The most important thing for Riley should be a Championship and not keeping the big three together. Still, I have a feeling things will change soon. Like him or not, Bosh is too good a player to continue to struggle like he has.