Raptors Meet the Celtics’ Challenge

This was as close to a must-win game as the Raptors have gotten so far this year and the timing was just as critical.  Going into the All-Star break, the Toronto Raptors had been on a slide; accumulating a string of losses and dropping from 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, down to the 5th spot.  It looked like the team was wearing down at a rapid pace but the one thing that was still elite was the competitiveness and feisty disposition of the team; they all wanted to win and were frustrated with the losses.  Needing a change and battling with trade rumors, Masai pulled off two great deals that calmed the nerves on the ship, reinforced the goal (going for the title), and strengthened the hands on deck, by bringing in Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker.

With the new players coming in, suddenly the Raptors represent a formidable foe to any Eastern Conference team looking to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals this summer.  In fact, the possibility of the Raptors advancing to the Finals has improved significantly; and potentially for the next season or more as well.  The time to go get it is now.

The first challengers on deck happen to be the (current) in-2nd-place Celtics; same ones who relegated the Raptors to a lower ranking.  Remarkably, both Ibaka and Tucker were available to play in the game against the Celtics but Lowry was unable to play due to injury.  Luckily, the Raptors still had DeRozan, Joseph, JV, Patterson, Carroll, Powell and, Noguiera.  That made the Raptors at least 10 deep on paper with the availability of Wright.  Game on.  After a slow start to the game, the Raptors were able to pull off a 107-97 victory on a strong defensive effort and a career-high effort from DeRozan (43 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds).

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And for Raptors fans everywhere, validation that the team is going to compete and represent the city very well, playing the great Canadian game of basketball, at its highest level.  It’s the first game but it still was one full of promise.  #WeTheNorth

Derrick Rose’s Fractured Orbital Bone

The report is everywhere on the wire about Derrick Rose suffering a fracture of the orbital bone around his left eye during a practice session.  The word is that he received an elbow to the face inadvertently in the heat of battle (at least, that is how we are led to believe it went down).  As someone who has suffered an pretty devasting eye injury and is still able to participate in active sports, I can attest that this injury (as bad as it may seem, or as much as it might sting Rose and the rest of the Bulls family) is not a real threat to Rose’s career or performance.  I think he’ll be back soon, and he might even be better off not playing during the pre-season.

There are a lot of eyes of Rose lately and justifiably so, since he has been expected to play at an MVP level.  He his expected to lead the Bulls to the promised landscape of the NBA Finals.  Even now, at 27 years of age, so many years removed from his MVP season.  Personally, I think he’s been able to build a great reputation for himself, and he is well respected as an NBA player but I don’t think he’s earned the level of praise and accolades that have been gifted to him.  When I start to consider his place in the history of basket, his highest ceiling seems to be as a possible Grant Hill-type role player in the future – or if he’s lucky, as a big short maker in the same vain as Big Shot Rob (Horry) was.  I can’t imagine the Bulls winning a championship.  Their best chance was available last season and they blew it.  I’m also skeptical about their expectations that Hoiberg will be a good coach for the Bulls.  I don’t think he’s going to be as good, or as successful, as Thibodeau.

I think everybody missed the real story.  Why has Rose styled his hair in the same way as Jimmy Butler?  Is this a solidarity thing, competition, an identity crisis, just pure laziness, etc?  I find it to be a bad look for the former MVP.  That hair isn’t going to the Hall of Fame.  I think the reason Rose is still widely covered is the expectation that he will make us all believe again (in him).  This hairstyle says, we can forget about those expectations.  We need to set the standard much lower.  If Rose can score over 20 points a game, make the All-star team, have efficient shooting percentages, be a top 10 defender at his position, average over 5 assists a game, grab more rebounds than Damian Lillard or Tony Parker, and play over 70 games; then and only then should anyone even consider expecting Rose to become an MVP type player.  For now, he seems like perhaps the fourth best player on the Bulls’ roster.  Let’s all calm down.  His injury is not going to affect that team as much as anyone thinks.

The Rose Effect

It was a memorable performance by Derrick Rose last night.  The game will live on in the annals of the NBA’s greatest performances and, if the Bulls are able to win these series of games, will propel Derrick Rose into the conversations mainly reserved for legends of the game.  I’m proud to be able to have watched the game and to be able to share the performance with you.  As always, enjoy.

The Plot Thickens

A few days ago it looked like, despite the MVP race becoming suddenly tight, Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook were still the front runners to win the award.  A few days later, after Kawhi Leonard made Curry look merely human, it looks like James Harden and Chris Paul are making strong claims for the award.  It looks like the Splash Brother and The Furious One (Westbrook) regressed in their drive towards the award.  Suddenly there are pundits entertaining the idea of Harden as the front runner.  I beg to differ.

I have been a staunch critic of The Beard as THE league MVP.  There is no doubt that what he is doing this season is truly special.  He is having the best season of his career and racking up highlight upon highlight in the process.  This season Harden has been the clear cut leader of the Houston Rockets and he has driven the Rockets to the 2nd place position in the very competitive Western Conference.  Still, he isn’t the MVP.  As great as he has been this season, the season isn’t over yet.  The Rockets have only 2 games on the 6th place Spurs.  They can very easily end the season in 6th place.  On the other hand, nobody is going to catch the Warriors for the top seed in the entire league.  Another great point is in the style of play.  There’s no doubt that Curry could easily have averaged a higher rate in Points Per Game but with the Warriors’ average win margin being over 10 points Per Game, he sat out more minutes than Harden did.  For the record, the Rockets’ average win margin is just over 3 points Per Game.  Curry is having the most efficient and effective production in comparison to all the other MVP candidates by a clear mile.  Another knock on Harden is that he continues to live off the foul line but we have seen that it doesn’t really translate well in the Playoffs when competition tightens up.  In a matchup between any of the other candidates, Harden’s Rockets will still be underdogs.  Would you pick the Rockets to win in a 7 game series against the Thunder?  How about the Clippers?  The Warriors?  The Spurs?  The Grizzlies?  Maybe you would.  But you’d be on the wrong side.  The Rockets are going to be underdogs in the Playoffs.  You can quote this article when it happens.

Despite the valiant push this past week but all the trailing candidates, the leading man is still without a doubt Stephen Curry.  Barring any record breaking run to end the Regular Season (and I welcome such a run), Chef Curry will be our Regular Season MVP.  Hopefully all the candidates finish strong because they are all very special athletics and fans favorites globally.  If you don’t like this competition, you don’t like basketball.  Let’s go!

The NBA Season 2015

This season is off to a decent start but so far it is lagging behind the excitement of the previous one.  Last season was one of the best NBA season I have ever followed as a sports fans.  There was sufficient drama and excitement throughout the league but mostly it was a feel good year.  The players were all dialed in and the good teams were quickly separated from the awful ones.  There were new stars and talents that emerged before our eyes; like Stephen Curry, Antony Davis, Paul George, Kyle Lowry, Damian Lillard, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard.  There were the veterans who solidified their status as part of basketball’s elite.  Players like Kyle Korver, Joachim Noah, John Wall, Goran Dragic, Chris Bosh, James Harden, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc & Pau Gasol, Al Jefferson and occasionally, Blake Griffin.  There are way too many players to name so I apologize to anyone that I have left off the previous list.

Then we have the elite amongst the elites.  Players like Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Carmelo Anthony, Kenneth Faried, DeMarcus Cousins, Tony Parker and even Mike Conley.  The guys who brought it consistently and demolished the competition on a nightly basis.  Much respect.   Thank you all for making it one of my favorite seasons.  I’m glad that the change in commissioner has driven the league to move in a different direction; at least when it comes to messaging.  David Stern, towards the end of his tenure, didn’t seem to be as concerned with the quality of the game but more with selling the game to owners and sponsors.  Marketing is something that always has to be done, yes, but it didn’t have to be at the cost of good competiton.  He had also allowed owners like Donald Sterling to get aware with racism and discrimination while severely fining players for comparatively minor offenses.  Also, the officiating of games improved significantly over the past year and a half and that has made the game much more enjoyable to watch.  There are still problems with superstars getting more calls than the less established players but there seems to be a growing consistentency in the interpretation of the in-game rules.

To the NBA and its players, I salute you.

Now to pivot back to this year.  I am mostly impressed with 2 teams in particular.  My hometown Raptors and the Golden State Warriors.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence why both teams have some of the most active fans.  They are real good and really fun teams to watch.  There seems to be a synergy amongst the ranks within both organizations and it’s helping both ball clubs win games.  The players just seem very dialed in and focused on winning the season.  No doubt when this season is done there will be a plethora of highlight reels from both teams; like the insane posterization of Andre Drummond by James Johnson.  That might have been the dunk of the year.  I hope there is plenty more to come.

Feeling good considered.  Being off to another wonderful season in 2015, considered.  I still think the teams to beat are the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Portland Blazers and the Dallas Mavericks.  Even then, I feel like the best team is the Chicago Bulls, especially if Nikola Mirotic can handle playing at the small forward position as the season wears on.  The sheer length, speed and experience on that Bulls team is scary.  The only team with a chance, in my opinion, are the Cleveland Cavaliers if someone can wake Kevin Love from his slumber.  Where is he?  That’s going to be the story as we progress through the second quarter or second third of this season.  All I know is, I expect more drama over the next two months as the competition ramps up.