Look For Ford To Stay In Starting Role

by Mike Ulmer
April 23, 2008

(TORONTO) - T.J. Ford is the man at the point for the Toronto Raptors.

Despite superior statistics managed by second-unit point guard Jose Calderon and two straight losses to the Orlando Magic, the Raptors will put the ball in Fords hands Thursday night for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference playoffs at the ACC.

While the Magic enjoyed a day off, Wednesday, the Raptors were at the adidas Practice Court at Air Canada Centre. Raptors coach Sam Mitchell bobbed and weaved through most of the post-workout media session before tipping his hand on who would play the point.

It will be Ford, despite defensive troubles guarding the Magics Jameer Nelson, a one-for-eight night from the field, six points, a half dozen assists, five rebounds and four turnovers.

With identical court time, Calderon keyed a rally from a first quarter deficit of 17 points. He scored 18 points, committed one turnover and pocketed five assists.

Stop if this sounds familiar.

The Raptors endured late-season scrutiny when Calderon approached Mitchell and requested Ford be given the starting job. In Ford, Mitchell has a player who says he cant come off the bench effectively. Calderon, meanwhile, does so cheerfully.

Mitchell is capable of diplomacy when the mood strikes. He pointed out, quite accurately, that the Raps have thrived when they had two unique weapons at point guard and that over a seven-game series, two effective point guards will be vital. Why, he said, take a chance on losing one in Game 3.

TJ has been better as a starter and Jose has proven he can come off the bench and give us something, Mitchell said. If TJ struggles at least I know Jose came in the last game and played well. If we do that (start Calderon) and Jose struggles, where do I go?

Instead, look for a smaller lineup that might feature either the hot-shooting Jason Kapono (20 points in Game 2), Jamario Moon (a disappointing one for seven in 22 minutes) or Carlos Delfino who can score (16 in Game 2), penetrate and defend.

Anthony Parker was shut out in Game 2 and who knows, Mitchell might return to a late-season rotation that featured both Calderon and Ford.

Whatever the permutation, the story isnt a mystery. The Raptors were outscored by 17 in the first quarter on Tuesday and 20 in the first quarter of Game 1.

Its tough, said Ford. Weve been getting off to bad starts. We know how important that was for Game 2 but we werent able to accomplish that. We gave up easy layups, miscommunications. Now were at home, weve got to protect our own court and go back to Orlando with the series tied 2-2 and the pressure on them.

Ford said he had received no word from Mitchell about a lineup change and said the Magics tactic of using a guard, in this case Nelson, to double Bosh and then force the Raptor guards to hit from long distance, got plenty of use this season. He acknowledges struggling with his shot but said he is compensating.

The shots havent been dropping, but you still want to influence the game, be it on the defensive end or find guys when they are open, Ford said.

Clearly, defence is a key element in the playoffs but Chris Bosh says the wide-open lanes the Magic encountered in the early parts of both games left the Raps defence gushing blood.

When we get off to those starts, were giving up layups. Its not like theyre hitting jump shots. Even in Game 1, they hit a lot of jump shots but if you look at the beginning, they had a wide open uncontested jump shots and then they had a couple of layups, Bosh said. Then if you give a team that much confidence and dont put pressure on them, theyre going to let the threes go and theyre going to hit them.

In other words, the question is not defending the outside in. Its defending the inside out. All that needs doing, Bosh said, is for everyone to keep their head.

You can have all the game plans, when Hedo Turkoglu drives 94 feet and gets a dunk, that has nothing to do with game plans. Thats being aware of your surroundings and doing your job the right way.

The Raptors also need a big game out of Andrea Bargnani. Bargnani scored nine points in Game 2 but did not shoot a free throw and took down just one rebound while accruing four fouls.