We're wading into somewhat more contentious territory with this list, strictly because of that far-reaching concept of "Top Performance". Does seven points, four rebounds, two assists and two blocks from Julian Wright in a win trump 41, seven and six from Andrea Bargnani in a loss? What about one vital shot over a better overall line? Should I already be feeling pangs of guilt for omitting Leandro Barbosa or Ed Davis from this list? Well, you tell me.
Until then, let's call this a starting point for discussion.
||Top Raptors Wins In 2010-11
Apr. 25, 2011, 2:05 PM
With no major team news expected before the NBA Draft Lottery on May 17th, we're going to use this space to look back and count down some of the more interesting categories from the season that was for the Raptors.
The team's five best wins of the season seems like a logical starting point and although there was a very small pool to choose from in 2010-11, there were still some memorable victories against the league’s elite teams.
Agree with the choices below? Should a 'W' like December’s Miracle In Motown be here instead? Send me your arguments on Twitter and we’ll try and feature some of the more persuasive ones in this space.
||Game #82: Raptors vs. Heat
Apr. 13, 2011, 10:56 AM
Raptors (22-59) @ Heat (57-24), Air Canada Centre, 8:00 PM, Sportsnet One, FAN590
The Big Story: The Big Finale
In one final "wink-and-a-gun" nod from the basketball gods, the Raptors hit the finish line of the 2010-11 season with another visit from the Miami Heat.
Now will Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James be there to try and trip them as they cross it?
The Heat locked themselves into the Eastern Conference's two seed on Monday with a win in Atlanta coupled with the Celtics' loss to the Wizards and reports say Miami's three All-Stars could take the night off as the Raptors try and avoid a 60th loss of the season.
But Bosh, one of only three members of the Heat that attended optional shootaround on Tuesday, seemed to imply that it may be business as usual for the Heat according to Eric Koreen of the National Post.
It's probably safe to assume that if Bosh plays, the response won't be quite so vitriolic as his first visit back to ACC on February 16. Just in case, Bosh offered an interesting take yesterday when asked if his current team's position and the Raptors' rough season validated his decision to leave.
"I don't want to offend anybody, but kind of," Bosh told Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Tuesday. "It's kind of exactly the position I thought. It shows why I made the decision I made."
What To Watch: Youth Is Served One More Time
For Toronto, the approach is much less coy. This season has transitioned into one focused on its youngest players and the same lineup that controlled the Bucks in Milwaukee for most of Monday night will be at it again for a third straight game.
Pardon the run on sentence, but all of Leandro Barbosa (sore right pinky finger), Andrea Bargnani (sore right ankle), Jose Calderon (sore left hamstring), Reggie Evans (sore left index finger), Amir Johnson (sore left ankle), Linas Kleiza (right knee surgery) are done for the season and will not play tonight.
But on the bright side, Sonny Weems (sore right knee) has been upgraded to a game-time decision.
That makes your starting five tonight is Jerryd Bayless, Joey Dorsey, Ed Davis, James Johnson and DeMar DeRozan, with each poised to end this season on a high.
Dorsey has quietly acquitted himself well in eight starts for Toronto this season with averages of 6.8 points and 10.1 rebounds in those games -- including 10 points and a career-high 20 rebounds against the Bucks on Monday.
For Johnson, setting new career marks has been a regular thing, as the versatile forward has had his first taste of regular (and more recently heavy) NBA minutes. Most recently, it's been his ball-handling and passing skills on display as he's been forced to play backup point guard minutes due to all the injuries.
The rookie wall has been less of an obstacle and more of a stepping stone for Ed Davis, who's poised to finish among the league's top rookies this season. His April numbers (13.7 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 1.3 APG, 1.0 BPG, .592 FG%, four double-doubles) should put him in the conversation for the Rookie Of The Month.
Then there's the backcourt, where Jerryd Bayless is coming off a rough shooting night from the floor (7-20) and six turnovers, but still turned in a gutsy performance with a line of 20 points, five assists, four rebounds and four steals. He hasn't scored fewer than 19+ in any of his games during this seven-game run and averaged 22.7 points and 5.9 assists during that span.
Finally tonight marks the end of a stellar second season for DeRozan, who only seems to be getting stronger by the month. Despite taking a roundhouse kick to the face on Monday, he'll be in tonight and should become the fourth player in franchise history to start all 82 games, joining Vince Carter (1999-00), Alvin Williams (2001-02) and Anthony Parker (2007-08).
Last Time They Met
It was a close affair in Chris Bosh's return to ACC back on February 16th. The Raptors received a strong 38-point performance from Andrea Bargnani, who drilled a 3-pointer with Miami ahead 97-90 and just under two minutes to play. But LeBron James came up big with a couple of crucial buckets to give the Heat more breathing room, the Raptors missed a pair of opportunities the other way and Bosh capped a successful night by icing the game at the free throw line in a 103-95 Heat win.
||Game #81: Raptors @ Bucks
Apr. 11, 2011, 11:45 AM
Raptors (22-58) @ Bucks (57-24), Bradley Centre, 8:00 PM, TSN, FAN590
Quick Hits For A Quick Turnaround
- On the injury front, Jay Triano revealed pregame on Sunday that all of the injured Raptors, with the potential exception of Sonny Weems, will not travel with the team to Milwaukee for tonight's final road game of the season against the Bucks.
- With only two games remaining on the season, don't be surprised if we've seen the last of some of these players for 2010-11. Triano said Amir Johnson is likely done for the season on Sunday, with Doug Smith of the Toronto Star elaborating.
- Milwaukee has been a difficult matchup all season long, but the Raptors may catch a break in an effort to avoid a season series sweep with Andrew Bogut (right elbow pain) sidelined for the remainder of the season. The big man has been a linchpin for the Bucks against the Raptors this season with averages of 18.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 3.7 blocks in three meetings this season.
- Bigger problem in the last meeting on March 30? Drew Gooden. The veteran forward came off the bench to score 22 points and haul down 11 rebounds in just his second game back from a lengthy absence due to plantar fasciitis. Gooden, who's likely to start in place of Bogut tonight, has been strong ever since that game at ACC -- with averages of 13.7 points and 7.9 rebounds over that stretch. It culminated with a first career triple-double (15 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists) against the Cavs on Saturday.
- The backcourt duo of Jerryd Bayless and DeMar DeRozan remains one of the league's best offensively in the month of April. DeRozan dropped from fifth to eighth (25.0 ppg) in league scoring for the month after Sunday's 18-point performance, while Bayless sits 11th (23.2 ppg) after tallying 19 points vs. the Nets.
- For those that worried that Wednesday's game against the Heat won't have much sizzle, keep your eye on the scoreboard tonight. Miami enters play ahead of Boston by a full game for second place in the Eastern Conference with both teams in action on Monday (MIA @ ATL, BOS @ WAS). Boston only needs to tie Miami in the standings at season's end to clinch second, so if Boston wins or both lose tonight, Wednesday's game at ACC is going to have a lot of meaning for Miami.
- After you read the Raptors Game Notes, make sure you read the Bucks' "Canadian themed" edition of their own.
||Game #80: Raptors vs. Nets
Raptors (21-58) vs. Cavaliers (24-55), Air Canada Centre, 6:00 PM, TSN2, AM FAN590
Apr. 10, 2011, 11:29 AM
The Big Story: Walking Wounded
Both the Raptors and Nets come into their last meeting of the season with some serious injury concerns as the season winds down.
The Raptors traveled to Philadelphia for Friday's loss to the Sixers without Andrea Bargnani (sore right ankle) and Jose Calderon (sore left hamstring), while Amir Johnson (sore left ankle) and Leandro Barbosa (sore right pinky finger) were ruled out just before tip-off.
Factor in the loss of Sonny Weems to a sore knee during Friday's game and the Raptors now have five players listed as day-to-day for tonight's game.
The Nets can certainly relate. Star guard Deron Williams is slated for wrist surgery on Monday and his season is done. Former Raptors Kris Humphries (sprained right ankle, bruised heel) and Sundiata Gaines (fractured right hip) are also out for the year, as is rookie Damion James (sore right foot). Guard Anthony Morrow (left knee tendinitis) has missed the last three games for the Nets and is listed as day-to-day.
What To Watch: Spring Surge
Down 12 points at halftime to the Sixers in Philly on Friday, the Raptors had every reason to pack in after the break, but turned in an inspired effort led by DeMar DeRozan, Jerryd Bayless and Ed Davis. As per the league's best Game Notes, that trio has had an inspired start to April.
With so many injuries and so little to play for, it's very encouraging to see three of the Raptors' youngest players step up and lead when given the opportunity.
Last Time The Met
The Raptors shouldn't need to dig too deep for motivation against these Nets. They dropped both games against the Nets in London in March, including a 137-136 triple-OT thriller in the second game -- representing the team's longest game in franchise history.
||Game #78: Raptors vs. Cavaliers
Apr. 6, 2011, 11:16 AM
Raptors (21-56) vs. Cavaliers (16-61), Air Canada Centre, 7:00 PM, TSN2, AM 1150 CKOC
Quick Hits For A Quick Turnaround
- Ugly start last night for the undermanned Raptors, who came out with low energy and got stomped on by the Knicks. But they've had some success in the second game of back-to-backs this season as Sunday's win at home vs. Orlando gives them a record of 6-11 in those contests.
- Perimeter defence took a big step backward at MSG after a solid performance against the Magic on Sunday. Carmelo Anthony and Toney Douglas bombed away for a combined 11 of the New York's 15 3-pointers. Cleveland isn't a league leader from long distance, but rank in the top half of the league in terms of 3-point makes and attempts.
- Last night's improved second half shouldn't excuse 78 points allowed in the first, but the willingness to at least mount a charge didn't go unnoticed by Jay Triano.
"We win both quarters in the second half and I think it's because we started to do what we're supposed to," said Triano. "Take them off the three (3-point line), make them play the pickv-and-roll game, try and be in on the help side. Completely different game. But you can't play 24 minutes against good teams or teams that are looking to play in the post-season."
- DeMar DeRozan's 36-point effort on Tuesday was one off his career-high, but bumped his season average to an even 17.0 points per game. A remarkable spike from his 8.6 ppg in his rookie season and a large reason why this season's most consistent Raptor in getting mentioned for the league's Most Improved Player award.
- Another very good night from Ed Davis could put him in the Raptors record book. After a career-high 10 shots made against the Knicks for 22 points, Davis now is just nine makes away from qualifying for second-best field goal percentage for a single season in franchise history. Number one on that list? Amir Johnson last season at .623 (208-for-334).
Cleveland sits 21st in the league in points in the paint allowed (42.3 per game) and if Andrea Bargnani is limited or sits out, Davis could thrive again. Regardless, expect him to reach that mark by season's end.
- In three straight starts at point guard Jerryd Bayless is now averaging 22.6 ppg, 0.512 FG%, 7.0 apg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 3-PT FGM/GM with just four total turnovers.
- The Raptors are up 2-0 on the Cavs this season and have the rare opportunity to play for a season series sweep tonight. Their only other sweep this season? The Oklahoma City Thunder.
- Bargnani (sore ankle) gave it a go on Tuesday and played just eight-and-a-half minutes before sitting and shutting it down at halftime. His status, along with those of Leandro Barbosa (finger) and Jose Calderon (sore hamstring) will be reevaluated closer to game time.
||Game #77: Raptors @ Knicks
Apr. 5, 2011, 12:31 PM
Raptors (21-55) @ Thunder (38-38), Madison Square Garden, 7:30 PM, TSN2, AM 1150 CKOC
The Big Story: Broom Alert
It remains to be seen how the revamped Knicks are going to fare come playoff time, but they have had nothing but success against the Raptors so far this season.
New York has taken the first three matchups this season for their first season series win since 2003-04 and try for their first sweep since 2001-02 tonight.
Amar'e Stoudemire has been the biggest reason, with averages of 28.0 points and 13.3 rebounds (most against any opponent) in three meetings this season with his best play coming late in those games.
Tonight is also the Raptors' first matchup against a much different Knicks team that now has Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups to content with. It's Anthony's first game against the Raptors this season, as he sat out of Denver visit to ACC on December 10th when he was still with the Nuggets. Historically, he's been very good against Toronto with averages of 24.7 points (on better than 50 per cent shooting), 5.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 14 career meetings.
Billups is no slouch either against his former team. Most recently, he put up 21 points and eight assists in Toronto back in that December loss to Denver.
The Knicks are the only Atlantic Division opponent the Raptors haven't beaten this season, but they've clearly shown the ability to knock off playoff teams with victories this season over the Magic (twice), Thunder (twice) along with the Celtics, Mavericks and Bulls.
As you can see in the photo tweeted from Reggie Evans following shootaround in New York this morning, they're also a loose bunch right now.
What To Watch: Lineup Changes
Does one or both of Jose Calderon (sore hamstring) or Andrea Bargnani (sore ankle) return tonight? Both are reportedly game time decisions in New York. Bargnani had a huge game at MSG on December 8th where he scored 41 points with seven rebounds and six assists.
According to Eric Smith via Twitter, Leandro Barbosa is also a game time decision tonight due to a finger injury.
If Jay Triano goes with the same starting five from the weekend, look for the backcourt duo of DeMar DeRozan and Jerryd Bayless to continue to shoulder the load for the Raptors offensively. They each scored 26 points in Chicago on Saturday followed up by DeRozan with 24 points the next night at ACC and Bayless adding 23 points in the win over Orlando.
Last Time They Met
Bargnani had a career-high 41 points, but his game-tying 3-point attempt came up short in a close 113-110 defeat for the Raptors on December 8th at MSG.
Raymond Felton saw his 3-pointer bounce on the rim five times before falling to break a 110-110 deadlock with 2.7 seconds to play. Felton finished with 28 points and 11 assists, while Stoudemire exploded for 18 points in the fourth quarter to finish with 34 points and 14 rebounds.
||Let's Give The Boys A Hand...
Apr. 4, 2011, 3:34M
It was like the Toronto sports scene willed the Raptors to pump the brakes on their six-game slide on Sunday.
Not only did a solid chunk of the Jays' 40-man roster show up, the only NHLer ever to be named after a Transformer in Leafs' goaltender James Reimer was courtside taking in the game as well. Quite the audience and maybe something to look back on in a couple of seasons if the youth movement with these Toronto-based teams grows into something more.
The Jays appear to be closest to that cusp of something very good, while we're way past the point of calling the Leafs' latest spring surge an aberration.
And for one weekend, the Raptors showed that they too have some brighter days ahead following an eye-opening back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday.
With Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon sidelined, the Raptors went toe-to-toe with the Bulls, very nearly going the distance with the Eastern Conference leaders despite an incredible performance from Derrick Rose.
The next night, the same starting five goes out and executes a smart game plan against another MVP candidate in Dwight Howard and walks out of ACC with an impressive 102-98 victory.
Small steps, but hopefully a sign that there may be a forest among all these trees.
"Obviously it's been a bumpy road, up and down this year but hopefully we end the year on a good note," said Jerryd Bayless on Sunday. "We take this into next year and we can maybe make the playoffs and do some damage."
Bayless Is More
Speaking of Bayless, the point guard (and make no mistake on that designation now) was more than a little impressive this weekend. The sample size for Bayless as the Raptors' starting floor general remains fairly small, but there's no denying that he's done some very good things when given the opportunity.
|As Starter (2010-11)
Can he keep it going? Will he get the opportunity to keep it going? We'll find out tomorrow in New York.
Quote Of The Night
"I just felt like yesterday had a lot to do with it, because We felt like we played real good knowing we didn't have all our pieces together. But we left with a lot of confidence. As for me, I just felt like I played like a little girl against Chicago so this game I kind of wanted to bounce back a little bit against Dwight (Howard). So today we just came out with our chests up high, the crowd was into it, so we just felt like we owed it to the fans."
- Reggie Evans, on his 17-rebound performance
Highlight Of The Night
Evans, uh... hooked up with Leandro Barbosa post-game for a hands-on approach to post-game celebration...
But it's hard to top this one handed tomahawk from Ed Davis off the great feed from DeMar DeRozan.
Apr. 1, 2011, 2:28M
As the clock winds down on the 2010-11 season, opportunity still exists for several young Raptors and Jerryd Bayless looks to be one of the bigger beneficiaries.
Last week, head coach Jay Triano hinted after a practice that he needed to get the guard more minutes. Necessity now dictates Bayless is going to get his shot, as Triano said Friday that Calderon won't travel with the team Chicago and is doubtful for Sunday's home game against the Magic.
Bayless hasn't really had a consistent role minutes-wise as a reserve in his first season as a Raptor, but he's delivered when given the reins as a starter.
|As A Sub (56 gms, 17:18 mpg)
|As A Starter (7 gms, 32:06 mpg)
|Per 36 Minutes
Not surprisingly, Bayless is a big fan of getting into the flow of games early.
"You know you're going to play and you're going to play a lot freer," he said on Thursday. "It's just different. I've been happy here whether it's starting or coming off the bench but I think anybody's going to play a little bit better when they're starting."
I Roll With Amir
Akil Augustine put together this video (at right) on what looked like an amazing event held by Amir Johnson with the winners of his I Roll With Amir contest on Wednesday.
If you hadn't heard, the team MVP in terms of social media savvy rewarded 50 fans/followers on Facebook/Twitter with a pre-game get together, a ticket to Wednesday's game followed by a post-game meal with some of the Raptors at a local steakhouse.
Twitter follower and "golden ticket" winner Ryan Aleong also sent along a photo.
Talking Raps With Raonic
In cased you missed it, rising tennis star (and Thornhill, Ontario native) Milos Raonic was courtside for Wednesday's game against the Bucks. Check out his interview with TSN's Rod Black at the game talking about his wildly successful year and his longtime support for the Raptors.