Preview & Chat: The Toronto Raptors

Kurt —  February 4, 2009

Records: Lakers 38-9 (1st in the West) Raptors 19-30 (14th in the East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 114.4 (1st in league) Raptors 107.0 (16th in league)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 105.2 (6th in league) Raptors 109.7 (25th in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Luke Walton, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Raptors Jose Calderon, Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Andrea Bargnani, Chris Bosh

Bynum Injury Redux: For more info, check out the good brothers over at the Los Angeles Times who talked to ESPN’s in-house doctor about the knee injury.

I think The Dude Abides did the best job I read of explaining how this season is very different from last season:

The difference between Andrew’s injury last season and his injury this year is that this year there is certainty regarding the specific nature of the injury. Last year, he subluxated his patella (momentary dislocation of the kneecap but then it popped back in). I’ve had the same type of injury two or three times, and each time I was back at full strength after one month. However, Andrew’s subluxation was so violent that he also suffered a severe bone bruise, an injury that can take a long time to heal. I once bruised a bone in my foot, and I wasn’t back on the court until two months later.

So, the uncertainty regarding the bone bruise was one factor last year regarding whether or not to have surgery. When it got to mid-May (four months post-injury), and he couldn’t make that final step in rehab, they decided to have his NY doctor take a look. He recommended surgery, and one of the important actions he took in surgery was to smooth the edge of the kneecap, which apparently was rendered a little bit jagged from the subluxation.

In contrast, the partial tear of the MCL is a much more common injury with a straightforward and certain rehab process. No surgery necessary, just strengthening the muscles around Andrew’s knee and increasing the range of motion. I would not be surprised to see him in a game by April 1st.

Thoughts and links: Just a lot of stuff I’ve wanted to get to.

• Great ideas here about upgrading All Star weekend. Maybe my favorite — have the NDBL All-Stars play the NBA Rookie Team. Those “minor leaguers” would have a huge chip on their shoulder and make a real game of it.

• One day after a published interview where I say that LeBron is the MVP right now, I will also agree with the commenters yesterday that said Kobe has injected himself into that conversation now.

Tim Duncan or Shaq? Who is the best big man of his generation?

• Sad to see Jameer Nelson go down, maybe for the season. That guy had clearly put in the work to bring his game up the next level, and he was the second most important player to the Magic. Hope it’s a quick recovery.

• I can’t believe I’m saying this regarding a fictional character, but that Jack In The Box Super Bowl commercial was just disturbing and wrong.

This made me laugh harder than anything has in a while. (Note, lots of cussing, if that offends you.)

The Raptors Coming In: Before the season, there was a question about just how good the Raptors would be, but nobody expected them to be this bad. To help us out, I asked a couple questions of Ryan over at Hoops Addict.

1. Obviously, this year has been a disaster compared to expectations, what went awry?

I think what went wrong is the injury bug struck early and often for Toronto. Heading into the season anyone associated with the team would point to Chris Bosh, Jermaine O’Neal and Jose Calderon as being the three main components to this team. Needless to say, when anyone team loses one of their three main parts they go through a rough stretch. For Toronto this was compounded due to the fact the team was trying to work O’Neal into the mix with new teammates but with him missing nearly one third of the season this has been an impossible task to accomplish.

That’s the easy, surface answer.

If you dig a little deeper you realize that Bryan Colangelo has always rolled the dice but in the past his gambles have paid off. He took a big gamble on his European experiment and when Jorge Garbajosa and Anthony Parker worked out he was adored by the local media and Raptors fans across Canada. This year it kind of fizzled as he placed faith in Calderon being a starter but the Spaniard showed he can’t shoulder starters minutes, Parker’s showing signs of age and his two summer signings – Will Solomon and Roko Ukic – have failed to earn the minutes at backup point guard which have forced Jay Triano to play Parker as the teams backup point guard. He also rolled the dice on O’Neal being able to regain his form and that clearly hasn’t happened.

2. How could the ship be righted long term?

Colangelo needs to roll the dice once again and shake things up… by not making a trade.

Right now the team is only four games out of the playoffs, yet it’s the Eastern Conference we’re talking about so it’s deceiving. While we’re within striking distance of Milwaukee, we’ve lost two heartbreakers within the past month to that team which will more than likely cost us our chance of leapfrogging them in the standings. In fact, if you switch those two losses alone then we’re able to move ahead of Milwaukee and we’re currently sitting in the eighth spot.

What’s sure to drive Colangelo crazy is the knowledge that we had the toughest start to the season of any team in the NBA and our schedule in March and April has us only playing six games with teams that currently have winning records. That means if we win against teams with records under .500 than we could finish the season on a 16-6 run which would have us in the playoffs. Throw into the mix some wins against Houston (who we’ve already beaten), Dallas (who we’ve always played well against) and another playoff team and we could be looking at a better record than last season. None of these games are unwinnable as Toronto has already beaten Orlando this season. There has to be part of Colangelo that wants to deal Jermaine O’Neal to get some help at the wing and bolster our chances of making the playoffs while still improving on last years record.

While that is all fine and good, how does that help us long term? I think this franchise needs to look at what it needs to do to ensure we can re-sign Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010. Personally, I think winning does a long way but with O’Neal’s expiring deal worth nearly $24 that summer it looks to serve as the ticket to being able to afford Bosh while inking another All-Star caliber player to run alongside Bosh and Calderon.

After the team has dealt with trying to add O’Neal into the rotation and switching coaches midseason, is trying to add another player like Shawn Marion into the mix the answer? I don’t think so. If anything, now is the time to hold firm and let some of the pieces gel and get healthy.

Keys To The Game: Kobe drops 61 in the Garden, now he goes to face the Raptors. Has he ever done much against Toronto? Oh, there was this.

Still, I don’t expect 81 or even 61 out of Bryant tonight, but the Raptors have been weak at perimeter defense. They, shockingly, are one of the league leaders in fewest points in the paint allowed. That said, the Lakers can’t go in thinking jumpers, they have to attack the paint, with penetration and with passing, particularly early. But this is a game where Sasha/Fisher/Radman could be big as they get open looks. Oh, and that Kobe guy, too,

The Lakers cannot get caught looking ahead to tomorrow. They started this trip 3-0 and before it even started (back with Bynum healthy) Laker fans would have taken 4-2 as a solid trip. Win tonight and you can do no worse than that, and you get the chance tomake a statement in the next two games. But they need to win this game first. Focus on the task at hand.

Where you can watch: 4 p.m.,, KCAL 9 here in Los Angeles and League Pass and the usual spots nationally.