Preview and Chat: The Toronto Raptors

Kurt —  March 11, 2008

Records: Lakers 44-19 (1 seed); Raptors 34-28 (5 seed)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 113.7 (3rd); Raptors 112.9 (6th)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.8 (5th); Raptors 107.8 (11th)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Raptors: Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Andrea Bargnani, Rasho Nesterovic.

Lakers Notes: I’ve already got one Lakers post up today, so not going to add a lot here. I will say I think we learn something about the Lakers tonight — how do they bounce back from a poor effort? Is this the kind of team that gets pissed at itself and takes it out on the next opponent? Or do they not take the loss to seriously and come out flat again? We shall see…..

Cuban Banning Bloggers: I’m not going to try and do more than Henry Abbot did today over at TrueHoop. He sums it up well.

I’ll throw in what I think this is about — trying to control the message. The upside of the Web is that teams can through their own sites get more information out to the fans. (The site is amazing for this.) However, the wide, wild world of the Web also makes it harder for teams to control the message that gets out, to spin it how they like. Bloggers like the Brothers K at the LA Times do a great job providing more information to we fans than the beat reporters have time to, they add to the coverage. But, it is information not controlled by the team. I find it very hard to think Cuban did not read the critical post by the Dallas Morning News blogger that triggered the new policy. I find it hard to believe that controlling the message the team wants out there did not spark this. Just my two cents.

The Raptors Coming In: Chris Bosh, the focal point of the Raptors attack, has missed the last week and a half of games, and is expected to miss tonight’s game as well.

The fact he is out figured prominently in answers to questions by Kinnon from Hoops Addict. Since the Raptors, like us, are looking forward to the playoffs, the questions focus on the future.

Right now Toronto is the five seed in the East. What are they going to have to do to win the first round of the playoffs? What are the expectations for the team along those lines?

The most important things for success this year are that the Raptors have Chris Bosh back to full strength, and that TJ Ford gets the second unit and his own game in the proper rhythm.

I can’t stress the importance of Chris Bosh returning to the lineup, and in a proper mindset and energy level. As we’ve seen in the past, his injuries are usually recoverable and in this case, he’s sitting out as a precautionary measure. However, he’s not going to be at his best upon his return. It’s going to take a few games for him to get into the proper rhythm, and proper mindset. When it comes to mindset, Bosh has a tendency to take a lot of outside shots as he can hit them with a high accuracy, and is part of his pick-and-roll game. However, his most effective plays are when he can get to the line consistently. This requires two things. The first is that Bosh has to drive the ball to the basket consistently and pick up fouls. The second is that Bosh needs to keep a good handle on the ball, as he’s been prone to turnovers on drives.

TJ Ford, on the other hand, has struggled upon his return. There are signs that he’s finding it within himself to play more like a team player rather than a very, very expensive Rafer Alston-type. TJ Ford’s mentality is such, that he believes that he can make any shot, and as a result, he tends to dribble himself into trouble and also make questionable decisions at times. When he’s on his game, this makes him an extremely effective and necessary player on the Raptors squad. However, the problem is that it’s inconsistent, and TJ has far more effective weapons playing on the floor at the same time as he is. At the beginning of the year, he made a commitment to play a more “team oriented” style, but with his injuries and the issues that have come up since his return, he hasn’t been able to find that sweet spot between being “the man” and being “the team man”.

What is needed for the Raptors to take the next step? A stronger presence inside to pair with Bosh? Time?

Time is going to be an important factor. The Raptors, being one of the youngest in the league, are going to need to develop the experience to play smarter basketball. However, there are definite needs that need to be addressed. The main two are for a stronger rebounding presence and for an effective wing player that can create a shot, play within the offense, and get to the line.

I’ll address the rebounding presence first. During the trade deadline, I suggested the Raptors needed to go after a Nick Collison-type of player, as he’s one of the few players that have a reasonable contract, with a strong rebounding presence and a high free throw percentage – things that Bryan Colangelo has publicly stated need to be addressed. However, I don’t believe this is going to be as urgently needed as previously thought. I believe Jorge Garbajosa can address these needs, and while Andrea Bargnani has had difficulties getting rebounds, he’s going to get better in the future. In addition, a lot of the times, the Raptors have difficulties rebounding due to the lineups that Sam Mitchell places on the floor. As he’s prone to do, he’ll often leave Bargnani on the floor with four smalls. This lineup, while usually replaced with Bosh, can be efficient at times, does nothing but exasperate the Raptors’ rebounding troubles.

The wing player, on the other hand, is something that can’t be developed internally. The Raptors have relied heavily on both Carlos Delfino and Jamario Moon to provide the needed defense and scoring punch from the wing positions, but there’s just no dancing around the issue. The Raptors definitely need a Corey Maggette-kind of player. A player that can get to the hoop, yet make his free throws will take pressure off of Bosh, and also play passable defense. If we look at the overall stats, the Raptors have one of the lowest Free Throws Attempted per game averages, and yet, they have one of the HIGHEST Free Throw percentages in the entire league. Even more important is the fact that Chris Bosh is one of the top free throw attempt players in the league, and yet the Raptors still don’t play up this inherit strength to the fullest because the team as a whole, doesn’t get to the line often enough. It’s a pressing issue that must be addressed in the off season.

The Last Time These Two Met: It was the day the Pau Gasol trade was announced, and the Lakers came out with incredible energy and just destroyed the Raptors, winning by 25.

Keys To The Game: While they miss Bosh, what Toronto wants to do — kill you on the perimeter with open jumpers — will not change. This is a drive and kick team and in the absence of Bosh Anthony Parker has taken on more scoring. The Lakers are going to be spread out and have to be smart about their help defense tonight (and they have to be good on defense in transition).

Among the things the Lakers have to do is not sag off the three-point shooters of the Raptors. Calderon, Parker, Bargnani, of course Kapono and Delfino all can drill the three. The Lakers can at time collapse as a defense in the paint when an opposing guard penetrates, do that tonight and they will pay a steep price. Also, better perimeter defense to stop that penetration in the first place would be a big help.

Where you can watch: Game time is 7:30 pm (Pacific) with a broadcast on Fox Sports Net in LA and League Pass nationwide.