|Weekend At Erie's...|
Nov. 30, 2010, 5:00 PM
Tuesday's practice saw the highly-anticipated return of forward Ed Davis, who's been medically cleared to play after offseason knee surgery and is primed to make his debut Wednesday at ACC against the Wizards.
Not a moment too soon for the rook, who spent a weekend working in Fort Wayne, Indiana for a pair of games with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA D-League. So what did the 13th overall selection take from the experience against the Mad Ants?
"It's a struggle down there man," admitted Davis. "It's rough. We had a five, six-hour bus ride to Fort Wayne. It's a struggle. You get the mindset you just want to work hard and just never be down there."
All things considered, a weekend in the Hoosier State should have been cake compared to what Davis has endured the last couple of seasons.
Coming off a National Championship with UNC as a freshman in 2009, Davis moved into a more prominent role the following season only to see it cut short by breaking the lunate bone in his left wrist in mid-February.
Fast forward to that summer's 2010 NBA Draft, where most mock drafts had Davis pegged as a lock for the top ten, but a surprising slide -- possibly due to the injury -- made for an easy pick by the Raptors at 13. His first game action after the wrist injury came in the Las Vegas Summer League, where Davis showed strong defensive instincts and an efficient, crafty offensive game that was a big factor in the Raptors’ 5-0 record.
But from another peak came a valley as a freak knee injury in a local pickup game at summer's end required the meniscus surgery that's brought him to this latest starting point.
A light brace serves as a reminder of the injury and Davis will wear it until he receives medical clearance, but it won't hamper him from soaking up some serious minutes in Raptors lineup that's thin up front.
The team’s top rebounder, Reggie Evans, is sidelined for the foreseeable future with a foot fracture and Peja Stojakovic -- who was hinted at as a possible replacement after Friday’s loss in Boston -- missed Sunday's game with a swollen knee. That prompted a surprising start and 20 minutes from Joey Dorsey against the Hawks, with Amir Johnson still coming off the bench.
Davis will not get that starting spot for his regular season pro debut on Wednesday, but Triano said he has zero expectations from the forward in terms of minutes.
"I think part of the rehab and part of him being sent down to the D-League is to get minutes and we'll play him as long as he can stay out there."
Encouraging words for Davis, who brings a new defensive wrinkle to the Raptors in terms of his abilities as a rebounder and a left-handed shot-blocker.
We've got tons more on Davis below, including a great assessment of what he brings to the table from Raptors Director Of Player Development Alvin Williams, a look back his work in Las Vegas, plus a preview of the NBA TV Canada special Two Rookies: D-Life.
Nov. 29, 2010, 8:00 PM
There’s an awesome slate of NBA games on TV this week here in our fine country and you can always find the full season's schedule at NBA.com. But here’s a closer look at some of the juicier matchups for fans in Canada in the next seven days.
Monday: Houston Rockets @ Dallas Mavericks (NBA TV Canada, 8:30 PM ET)
The Mavs have been red-hot of late and are coming off an impressive 106-95 home win against the Miami Heat to extend their win streak to five games. Even more impressive? The fact that four of those wins came over a five-day stretch last week.
It's been failure to launch for the Rockets (5-11) this season, who have strung together back-to-back wins just once. Houston has been playing better basketball of late with wins in two of its last three, including a gritty 99-98 win over Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.
Tuesday - Boston Celtics @ Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA TV Canada, 7:00 PM ET)
Cavaliers fans are undoubtedly readying the vocal chords for Thursday's must-see matchup against the Heat, but first up is a Fan Night rematch of last season's Eastern Conference semi-final.
Cleveland (7-9) has been scuffling along in the tight Central Division, but are coming off a comeback win at The Q over the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday. The Celtics last played against the Raptors on Friday night in Boston, which bodes well for Rajon Rondo as he recovers from a hamstring injury.
Wednesday – Washington Wizards @ Toronto Raptors (Sportsnet, 7 PM)/ San Antonio Spurs @ Los Angeles Clippers (NBA TV Canada, 10:30 PM ET)
The Raptors-Wiz matchup could be back-to-back showcase of the league's top two rookies. Lightning-quick guard John Wall could makes his first appearance against the Raptors as he tries to help the Wizards to a second win over the Raptors this season. Wall's been tremendous when healthy and has missed two straight games with a bruised right knee.
Following that, Blake Griffin aims to continue opening eyes and dropping jaws with his explosive play for the Clippers. They face a daunting challenge in the form of the Spurs, who have been rolling with just one loss in November.
Thursday - Miami Heat @ Cleveland Cavaliers (TSN2, 8 PM)
Whether you love or hate the current circus on South Beach, this matchup is “must see” viewing for any NBA fan. Think Vince Carter ever had it bad in a return to ACC? You ain’t seen nothing yet as LeBron James makes his highly anticipated return to Cleveland.
Friday – Oklahoma City Thunder/Toronto Raptors (TSN2, 7 PM)/ Dallas Mavericks @ Utah Jazz (NBA TV Canada, 10:30 PM ET)
No team hurt the Raptors last season like Oklahoma City Thunder, who took both games in 2009-10 by an average of 23 points. The only visit to ACC this season for Kevin Durant and co., is going to be a real test for the Raptors improving defence.
Then it's another powerhouse Western Conference matchup as the Mavs visit the Jazz, who start the week ahead of the Thunder atop the Northwest Division at 13-5 and will be nearing the middle of a six-game homestand in this one. Utah has also been scorching as winners of five straight and 13 of their last 16 overall.
Saturday - Orlando Magic @ Milwaukee Bucks (NBA TV Canada, 8:30 PM ET)
If you're a fan of defence, this game's for you as it pits the league's top two teams in terms of defensive efficiency.
It caps off a week of games against Central Division opponents for the Magic, who start the week deadlocked with the Celtics for top spot in the East. Milwaukee, among last season's biggest surprises, is simply striving for consistency. The Bucks started the season by losing four of five, then winning four of five and most recently stopped a five-game slide with a home win over Charlotte on Saturday.
Sunday – New York Knicks @ Toronto Raptors (Sportsnet, 1 PM ET)/ New Orleans Hornets @ San Antonio Spurs – 7:00 PM ET
The Raptors try and exact a little revenge on the Knicks for spoiling their home opener on Sunday afternoon and that sets the table for a monster Western Conference showdown on Sunday night.
Monty Williams' squad came out blazing with a stunning 11-1 start, but the Hornets are coming off their worst week of the season. New Orleans suffered road losses to the Clippers and Jazz along with a home loss against the Spurs on Sunday to set up this week's rematch at AT&T Center.
Nov. 28, 2010, 9:41 AM
Raptors (6-10) vs. Hawks (10-7), Air Canada Centre -- Toronto, 1 PM, Rogers Sportsnet, FAN590
After losing their top rebounder and possibly most commanding presence on the floor, the Raptors must try and regroup at home against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.
The Big Story: Reggie-less...
Starting power forward Reggie Evans suffered a right foot injury in the third quarter against the Celtics on Friday and head coach Jay Triano said that X-rays have revealed a fracture. More extensive tests are being done here in Toronto and the team is expected to have some kind official update on Sunday.
Enter the enigmatic Hawks for Sunday afternoon's tilt. Atlanta opened their season with six straight wins, then proceeded to lose five of seven, with a lopsided home defeat against the Celtics prompting new head coach Larry Drew to publicly call out his players. That tactic appears to have worked.
A competitive OT road loss to the Nets has been followed by two straight wins, including Saturday's 99-90 disposal of the Knicks at MSG. Jamaal Crawford led the way with 21 points off the bench for the Hawks, who had five other players score in double figures.
Atlanta shoots it well (48 per cent, second in NBA), shares the ball (23.8 assists per game, T-2nd) takes care of it (14.4 turnovers per game, 12th) and boast four players in Crawford, Al Horford, Josh Smith and Joe Johnson that can easily go off for 20+ points on any given night.
This is also a Hawks team that's won more on the road (6-2) than at home (4-5) this season, so another slow start like Friday’s could prove to be costly.
What To Watch: Raptors Rotation
The injury to Evans is going to have some interesting reverberations throughout the Raptors lineup and it's going to open up a couple of opportunities for that glut of players at the 3/4 spots.
Amir Johnson is expected to get the start in replacement of Evans and that makes sense. He's provides some necessary interior help defence and rebounding next to Andrea Bargnani plus has great chemistry with Jose Calderon in pick-and-roll situations.
From there, it gets interesting. Following Friday's loss, Triano indicated that Peja Stojakovic could get a look at power forward in an unorthodox “stretch four” type of role. Linas Kleiza could be arguably be utilized the same way. But either of those options isn't going to work for major minutes on Sunday -- especially at the defensive end -- which could mean Joey Dorsey sees time against more traditional bigs like Horford or Zaza Pachulia.
Ed Davis, who will play in the second game of his rehab and conditioning stint with the NBA D-League's Erie Bayhawks on Sunday, may also be in the mix very soon if the coaching staff feels he's ready to contribute.
Until then however, Triano is going to need to get creative.
David Amber and the NBA TV Canada broadcast crew will have much more on Sunday's with Raptors Game Day, beginning at 12:30 PM.
Last Time They Met
A 45-point second quarter from the Hawks put the Raptors down by 22 points at halftime back on April 9th at Philips Arena and they couldn't overcome that deficit in an eventual 107-101 defeat.
Amir Johnson made his first start of the season in that contest (two games after Chris Bosh suffered facial fractures in Cleveland) and put up 18 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks in a losing cause. The defeat gave sent the Raptors to their third loss in four tries against the Hawks last season.
Don’t forget that you can check out the last two Raptors wins against the Hawks on with Raptors Rewind on NBA TV Canada, beginning Sunday at 10 a.m.
Nov. 26, 2010, 11:41 AM
Raptors (6-9) vs. Celtics (11-4): TDBanknorth Garden - Boston, 7:30 PM ET, TSN2, FAN590
The Raptors are on the road tonight in Boston, where they aim to stay hot in their second matchup of the season against the Celtics. I'll be discussing it with you in our latest live chat, starting just before tip-off.
The Big Story: Bringing It To Boston
Can the Raptors do it again and stun the reigning Eastern Conference champs for the second time in a week?
It certainly won't be easy against a Celtics team that has likely has regret and revenge on their minds following the Raptors' thrilling 102-101 win at Air Canada Centre last Sunday.
Regret for a disastrous second quarter that uncharacteristically put them in a big hole and revenge after their fourth-quarter comeback ultimately fell short on a Paul Pierce missed jumper at the buzzer. That halted an eight-game slide for the Raptors against the Celtics overall and now the challenge is to ride that momentum into Boston, where they last won in late-January of 2008.
The Celtics have also been on a roll since that defeat, hammering the Hawks in Atlanta the following night and then outlasting the Nets at home on Wednesday.
Sunday’s win saw just eight bodies get into the game for the Raptors, as the game took place after the acquisitions of guard Jerryd Bayless and forward Peja Stojakovic from New Orleans, but before either player could arrive in Toronto.
The newbies certainly seemed to fit in seamlessly in Toronto's fourth straight win on Wednesday -- a convincing 106-90 victory over the Sixers. Stojakovic was lights out as always -- drilling open looks to give him an efficient seven points in just six minutes of work, while Bayless (13 points, 4-7 FGM-A) was solid in a limited debut and showed surprising range by going three-for-three from long distance.
What To Watch: RONDO! (In Mike Gorman voice)
The addition of Bayless, in particular, rounds out a very fast Raptors backcourt attack and that may be a factor against a depleted Celtics guard rotation.
As of this posting, reports are indicating that Celtics starting point guard Rajon Rondo could miss a fourth straight game due to a nagging hamstring injury. There's still a possibility he could go, but with Boston’s next game not until Tuesday and the bigger picture (championship) always on their minds, Doc Rivers might err on the side of caution tonight.
The news gets worse for Boston, as Delonte West broke his right wrist in a fall against the Nets on Wednesday and is expected to be sidelined for several weeks. You can expect Nate Robinson to start (as he did in Toronto) with Marquis Daniels and rookie Avery Bradley backing him up should Rondo remain unavailable.
As mentioned yesterday, rookies Ed Davis and Solomon Alabi are on the Raptors roster, but both are currently with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA D-League. You can catch them in action tonight when their game against the Fort Wayne Mad Ants is STREAMED LIVE over at the official NBA D-League site.
Last Time They Met
The Celtics wiped out a 12-point Raptors lead in the fourth quarter on Sunday with a 16-1 run. But Toronto regained its footing and pulled within 101-100 on a Sonny Weems layup 18.8 seconds to play.
Leandro Barbosa followed that by poking the ball away from Ray Allen on the inbounds pass only to see his layup attempt blocked. But Amir Johnson battled for the offensive rebound and was fouled in the process. Johnson calmly knocked down his free throws, Pierce's buzzer-beater try was off and the Raps snapped their streak against the Celtics in gritty fashion.
Andrea Bargnani was also tremendous in the win, scoring a game-high 29 points with season highs in free throws made (nine) and attempted (13).
See you in tonight's chat!
Nov. 25, 2010, 4:10 PM
The Raptors are rolling as winners of four straight, heading into Boston and as always, we'll be discussing all the action here at Raptors.com.
But we're also going to try and keep an on Fort Wayne, Indiana where rookies Ed Davis and Solomon Alabi will be in action with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA D-League.
For Davis, it's his first live game action since undergoing offseason surgery to repair a partially torn right knee meniscus. His stay in the D-League has been labelled as a "short-term rehabilitation and conditioning stint", which means debut with the Raptors may not be far off.
Alabi has already put in two games with Erie, averaging 10.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per contest.
The NBA D-League's official site will have it streamed live, so check it out... only during stoppages in play at the Garden of course.
Nov. 23, 2010, 8:30 PM
Raptors (5-9) vs. Sixers (3-10): Air Canada Centre - Toronto, 7:00 PM ET, Sportsnet, FAN590
The Big Story: Meet The New Guys
It's the second time in as many weeks that these teams have faced each other but you'd understand if the visiting Sixers don't recognize their hosts.
Newly acquired guard Jerryd Bayless (who will wear number five) and sharpshooting forward Peja Stojakovic (number 16) both practiced with the team on Tuesday and are poised to make their debuts against the Sixers.
For Bayless, it's going to be a baptism by fire as the team's new backup to Jose Calderon at point guard. He's had very limited time to absorb the Raptors playbook and according to head coach Jay Triano, the plan is to just keep it simple.
It's certainly not an ideal amount of prep time, but the athletic 22-year-old guard was enthusiastic about getting started in Toronto.
"I've told Bryan, I've told coach, I can't be more excited," said Bayless. "This is the opportunity of a lifetime I think and playing with these young guys and growing with them is something I've wanted to do since I've been in the league, on a team like this."
"It's definitely going to be a great situation and hopefully it's a long one."
The role and fit becomes more complicated with Stojakovic, as there's been a wait-and-see approach from player, head coach and GM since Saturday's deal went down. Stojakovic seemed happy about the international feel of the city and his familiarity with some of the personnel here, but as a veteran in the final year of his deal he's acutely aware his situation is anything but stable.
To his credit, the marksman has drilled the fourth-most NBA three-pointers all-time, remains lights out from long distance and the Raptors have a glaring need in that department. They currently rank last in the league with respect to three-point shooting percentage and makes from beyond the arc.
But with his team rolling and facing a surplus of wing players, Triano isn't all that interested in deviating from what's won his team three games in a row -- even if that means his team continues to shoot at the same low clip from the behind the arc (10-38 for 26 per cent).
"Well, we're not shooting the ball from the three-point line as well as I'd like, but we're winning basketball games so I'm not going to do it [play Stojakovic] at the expense of us not winning a game or giving us every opportunity to win a game," said Triano. "He will definite spread the floor and he will definitely make open shots, that's for sure."
What To Watch: Guard Play (If You Can...)
The Sixers backcourt of Jrue Holiday (17 points, six rebounds, seven assists) and rookie Evan Turner (11 points, 12 rebounds, four assists) was strong in a losing effort last Wednesday, but got little from Lou Williams, who averaged 18.3 points in four contests against the Raptors last season.
Factor in the return of Andre Iguodala (more on that below) plus the Raptors additions of Bayless and Leandro Barbosa (who sat out last week) and it could turn into a track meet between the first and fourth-ranked teams in fast break points.
Matt Devlin is going to discuss the Raptors new additions and preview the matchup in a LIVE CHAT beginning at 3 PM on game day, so be sure to stop by.
If you can't make it for that, David Amber and the broadcast crew will break it all down for you beginning with Raptors Game Day at 6:30 p.m.
The Raptors are back to full health, but will be without rookies Ed Davis and Solomon Alabi, who are currently playing with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA D-League.
For Philadelphia, Iguodala (sore Achilles tendon) was expected to return to the lineup against the Wizards on Tuesday.
Check the Raptors twitter account for updates closer to game time.
Last Time They Met
It was a tight one down the stretch at Wells Fargo Center last week, but Toronto ratcheted up the defence and held Philadelphia to no field goals and just one point over the final 3:34 to seal a 94-86 win.
Sonny Weems who scored the go-ahead layup and added a free throw in the game's final 1:24, scored a career-high 25 points in the win, while Andrea Bargnani led all scorers with a season-high 30 points. Elton Brand led the way for the Sixers that game with 27 points.
NBA TV Canada will look back at Raptors wins from the past two seasons against the Sixers on Wednesday beginning at 4 p.m.
See you in Wednesday's chat. Should be a good one.
Nov. 23, 2010, 9:30 AM
Produced and directed by Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, it's a supremely stylish look at then prospects like Bayless, Tyreke Evans, Michael Beasley, Kevin Love and Brandon Jennings as they build up to (and eventually play in) the Boost Elite Mobile 24 Hoops Classic at Rucker Park in Harlem.
Older? Sure. But if you haven't seen it yet, it's a good introduction to the Raptors' new young guard.
Nov. 20, 2010, 7:30 PM
In a deal that went from rumour to reality in a very short span of time, the Raptors completed a five-player swap with the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday, acquiring sharpshooting veteran forward Peja Stojakovic and 22-year-old guard Jerryd Bayless in exchange for guards Jarrett Jack, Marcus Banks and forward David Andersen.
There's a few reasons for the Raptors to make this deal -- which actually required two separate trades in order to meet the conditions of the NBA' collective bargaining agreement.
- Stojakovic, 33, is in the final year of his current deal (his 13th NBA season) and he's averaged career-lows in minutes (14.8) and points (7.5) under head coach Monty Williams.
But with 11 makes from beyond the arc in 11 games this season, he instantly becomes the Raptors' leader from long distance. On a team that ranks third last in the league in both makes and percentage from long range, the three-time All-Star and the guy with the fourth-most threes all-time certainly fills a need.
The cap relief this expiring deal provides made him a often-rumoured player to be on the move before the trade deadline. He still might be. Whatever the intention with his contract, it joins a growing base of assets that offer the Raptors plenty of flexibility going forward.
- In Bayless, the Raptors get a six-foot-three scoring guard who's not too unlike Leandro Barbosa in that his strengths are speed and getting to the free throw line (albeit with significantly better hops). Also like Barbosa, he doesn't appear to be a pure point guard, although there's still plenty of potential unrealized.
Playing behind Chris Paul resulted in Bayless' numbers dropping across the board, but he should see an increase in opportunity with only Jose Calderon and possibly Barbosa available as point guard options right now.
The former standout at the University of Arizona also adds another prospect to the Raptors backcourt joining a young core of DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems, Amir Johnson, Ed Davis, Andrea Bargnani and possibly Solomon Alabi.
- For the Raptors, there are two players that benefit immediately from this deal.
The first is Calderon, as he likely becomes the clear cut starter. Just a few months ago it was Calderon rumoured to be on the move, but for now, he's this team's best (and maybe only) true point guard.
This move also carves out a potential role for Ed Davis, who's getting closer to a return following right knee meniscus surgery in the offseason. Reports have him destined for a brief conditioning stint with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA D-League, but when he returns Andersen's 14 minutes per game is an ideal starting point for him in a frontcourt rotation of Evans/Bargnani/Johnson/Dorsey.
- For those scoring at home, this two-for-three deal also opens up a roster spot for Toronto.
- You're shipping out a starter in Jack and a guy who's proven to be a key reserve in Andersen for two players that presumably aren't going to start. Throw in Marcus Banks and the Raptors are the point guard position is definitely thinner.
- You're also losing a lot of intangibles in three very professional players. Jack in particular, has been a very vocal presence with the media this season.
- With Stojakovic, the logjam now shifts to the wing positions where DeRozan/Weems/Kleiza/Wright/Stojakovic all could warrant minutes.
Basically, this looks like a deal that cementing a direction for both teams. The Raptors continue to get younger and increase flexibility for the future, while the hot start from the Hornets clearly had them thinking contention and searching for veteran depth.
Neither player will be in uniform until the Sixers come to town on Wednesday, but it will undoubtedly be a hot topic of conversation in our live in-game chat when the Raptors host the Celtics tomorrow at 1 p.m.
Let me know what you think about the deal on Twitter @jaysatur and we’ll post some of them in this space.
Nov. 19, 2010, 11:30 AM
The Big Story: He's Bizarro Jerry
The younger Raptors and veteran-laden Rockets share a lot of similarities after roughly a dozen game into the campaign.
Both teams have competed, but struggled to win only three games to start the 2010-11 season and like the Raptors, the Rockets can thank the league's schedule-makers for a heavy dose of road games off the top.
Eight of the Rockets' first 12 games have been away from Toyota Center and tonight's game wraps up a brutal six-game stretch. They've been to Washington, Indiana, New York, back home for Chicago then away again to Oklahoma before moving on to Toronto.
A less-than-optimal start for the banged-up Rockets, but like the Raptors, they've been battling. They've been in every game outside of Wednesday's 116-99 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday and amongst teams with early sub .500 records, Houston has played opponents about as close as you can.
Point differential among sub. 500 teams
For the Raptors, two four-game road trips are now in the books and the schedule turns in their favour with 12 of their next 17 games played within the confines of ACC. With a home record of just 1-3 so far with losses to the Knicks and Bobcats however, the Raptors have to consistently bring an effort similar to Wednesday's against the Sixers (not Tuesday’s in Washington) to truly make home court an advantage.
Why To Watch? Rockets Still Have Fuel
With at least two significant Rockets regulars out tonight (more on that below), Houston bench may be thinner, but they still boast plenty of talent with shooting guard Kevin Martin (23.1 ppg) and power forward Luis Scola (22.9 ppg , 10.0 rpg) leading the way.
Those two should provide an interesting contrast to the Raptors duo of Andrea Bargnani and Sonny Weems, who are coming off their best performances of the season in a win against the Sixers on Wednesday.
Also keep an eye on DeMar DeRozan tonight, who returns home after his quietest performance of the Raptors recent road trip. The second-year high-flyer ran roughshod through Florida by getting to the line 23 times versus the Magic and Heat, but shot just four free throws combined in Washington and Philly. He dished out a career-high five assists against the Sixers, but posted only four points with one made field goal in 32 minutes. Expect a bounce back performance.
David Amber and the broadcast crew will have a full preview of tonight’s game, beginning with Gate 5 Live, beginning at 6:00 PM on NBA TV Canada.
Toronto could see the return of lightning-quick combo guard Leandro Barbosa tonight. The Blur sat out of all four-games on the team's recent road trip with a left shoulder strain and his potential return gives head coach Jay Triano his healthiest roster in a while.
Ed Davis (right knee meniscus) remains sidelined as he continues to prepare for his eventual debut.
Houston, on the other hand, has been hit hard by a trio of left ankle injuries to key regulars Aaron Brooks, Yao Ming and reserve forward Chase Budinger.
Only Budinger is expected back for the Rockets on Friday. Brooks remains at least a couple of weeks away from returning, while Yao did not join the team in their game in Oklahoma and isn't expected in Toronto either.
Check back closer to game-time for further injury updates.
Last Time They Met
The Raptors and Rockets split their two-game season series, with Toronto earning an impressive 101-88 victory at ACC on Dec. 13, 2009. In a game they lead nearly wire-to-wire, the win gave the Raptors their sixth in their last seven meetings at ACC.
You can see the Raptors’ last two victories over the Rockets on NBA TV Canada, beginning at 4:00 PM.
I’ll be courtside for tonight’s matchup and hosting our live in-game chat with Akil Augustine. See you then!
Nov. 17, 2010, 11:30 AM
The Big Story: So... About Last Night...
So which team shows up in the City of Brotherly Love tonight? Is it the undermanned squad that outworked the Magic and battled the Heat? Or the group that folded up shop quickly after halftime in Washington?
They get a quick opportunity to find answers in Philadelphia, where they've had more road wins (14) than in any other NBA city. The Sixers are also mired in their own four-game losing streak and boast an equally egregious 2-9 record.
But as the Raptors learned the hard way last night, teams are now looking at them as a 'gettable' game as well, and they can’t afford not to bring the requisite level of intensity.
It all starts with, well... starts. The Raptors continue to allow teams to get into an early offensive flow and put themselves in catch up mode early with sluggish first quarters (allowing an average of 29.5 point to opponents in their last eight first quarters) and it's killing them.
By the end of the first quarter Monday, the Raptors cut a lead as big as eight points down to 27-23, which is manageable. But all of Andray Blatche (eight points), Kirk Hinrich (four assists), Gilbert Arenas (five points) and JaVale McGee (seven rebounds, two blocks) got off to solid starts, while Nick Young started his big night off the bench with his first four points. All five of those players were instrumental in the win.
Of even greater concern has to be Tuesday’s effort on the glass, which saw the Raptors outrebounded 47-36 by the (at the time) worst-ranked rebounding team in the league.
On a team with some key weaknesses, the Raptors have got to play to their strengths. Early on this season, those have been forcing turnovers, scoring on the fast break and attacking the glass (particularly at the offensive end) and they were beat in all of those categories on Tuesday.
Armed with their potent young guards (more on them below), athletic wings and versatile bigs, the Sixers may be off to a similar start, but they have the necessary talent to make for another long night on the road.
You can relive last night’s game against the Wizards with Game In An Hour on NBA TV Canada at 3 PM.
What To Watch: Philly's Young Backcourt
They may have missed first overall pick John Wall against the Wizards on Tuesday, but they'll still get a good look at a dynamic rookie guard on this trip. Second overall pick Evan Turner moved into the starting lineup on Nov. 7 and since that point, the shooting guard has been a solid contributor with averages of 10 points and 7. 4 rebounds per game.
He'll be paired up with impressive second-year point guard Jrue Holiday who's averaging 14 points per game and has been on a tear distributing the ball this month, with at least eight assists in six of eight November games.
From the Raptors perspective, it's going to be interesting to see how this team responds after arguably their worst effort of the season. Much like last night, both teams probably view this game as "gettable".
Of particular interest should be Andrea Bargnani, who was coming off a poor three-for-13 performance with just two rebounds versus Washington, but seems to bring is best to Philly. In both meetings against the Sixers in Philadelphia last season, Bargnani averaged 23 points, six rebounds and two blocks.
Matt Devlin and Leo Rautins will tee up all the action from Wells Fargo Centre with Raptors Game Day on NBA TV Canada at 6:30 PM.
Ed Davis (right knee meniscus) and Leandro Barbosa (left shoulder strain) remain inactive for the Raptors. Triano revealed pregame in Washington that he's hopeful Barbosa can return to the lineup on Friday against the Rockets.
For the Sixers, explosive forward Andre Iguodala missed Tuesday's game -- a 101-93 road loss to the Cavs -- with an Achilles tendon injury. He's officially listed as a game-time decision.
Last Time They Met
As mentioned earlier, Philly has been very kind to the Raptors in recent years, where they've racked up seven of those 14 all-time wins there in their last nine trips. That includes wins in both visits last season, the most recent being a thrilling 128-123 OT result on April 3.
You can relive Toronto’s last two wins over the Sixers with Raptors Rewind, beginning at 4:30 PM on NBA TV Canada.
We'll discuss it all in our live chat, starting just before tip-off from Philadelphia.
Nov. 16, 2010, 11:30 AM
The Big Story: The Best 2-8 Team In The League?
The Raptors can hold their heads high after a weekend that saw them gut out a 110-106 win in Orlando and threatening the Heat well into the fourth quarter in an eventual 109-100 defeat the following night in Miami.
In terms of winning percentage, the Miami loss drops the Raptors into the dregs of the Eastern Conference at 2-8. But six of their eight losses have been by nine points or less, with the Raptors threatening late in the majority of those games.
They’ve done it with an offence that's fallen back to middle of the pack this season (100.6 ppg, ranked 16th overall), but it’s an improvement on the defensive end is going to be the yield some positive results. During their most recent four-game stretch, the Raptors have regressed to the bottom third of the league in points per game allowed (104.5, 23rd overall) and are even lower in terms of defensive efficiency (108.6 points allowed per 100 possessions, 27th overall).
What's kept the Raptors in those games has been their prolific ability to score on the fast break (21.7 ppg, first in the NBA) along with some strong work on the offensive glass (13.5 per game, fifth in NBA).
In short, the Raptors are doing well to stay in a lot of games, the next phase of development is to avoid those early deficits and start playing with and holding leads sooner.
Why To Watch: Tight Games In The Phone Booth
There's no 'easy' place to get a road win in this league, but the Raptors have had recent success at Verizon Center, home to a couple of memorable wacky finishes in Raptors history. Remember Mo Pete's last second desperation heave after Michael Ruffin (inexplicably) attempted to kill the clock by launching the ball into orbit? What about last year's visit that saw Hedo Turkoglu hit a clutch corner jumper that ended a nasty slide and sparked some strong mid-season play for the Raptors?
The Raptors have taken four of the last six matchups overall and three straight on the road against the Wizards, but these two teams typically play each other very tight. At least one meeting in five of the last six seasons has gone to overtime with the 2008-09 season being the lone exception. That year however, the point differential in three matchups between the two teams was just +5 favouring the Wizards.
Washington is also looking banged up (more on that below), but one concern has to be the warming up of the Hibachi. Controversial guard Gilbert Arenas may not be back to All-Star form, but always seems elevate his game when his opponent is wearing Raptors red, with career averages of 23.2 points, 5.2 assists and 3.7 rebounds versus Toronto. Arenas has struggled through an ankle injury this season, but exploded for 30 points against the Bulls on the weekend (11-of-22 FGM-A, 7-10 3PT FGM-A).
Like the Raptors, injuries are also affecting the Wizards and most notably, the mild foot sprain suffered by lightning-quick first overall pick John Wall against the Chicago Bulls on Saturday. Wall, who's averaging an astounding 18.1 points, 9.8 assists and 4.0 reboundsas a rookie, left the United Center in a walking boot that night, has been spotted on crutches since and is officially listed as a game-time decision for tonight's contest.
Also potentially missing in action for the Wiz are forwards Andray Blatche and Yi Jianlian, who are both listed as day-to-day with knee injuries.
For the Raptors, Leandro Barbosa did not travel with the team due to his left shoulder strain. Rookie forward Ed Davis remained inactive as he continues to recover from surgery to repair the injured meniscus in his right knee. Linas Kleiza, who has missed the last two games with a sore right Achilles, returned to practice with the team in Miami on Monday and is expected to go tonight. Reggie Evans once against sat out with the flu-like symptoms that shelved him against the Heat and is listed as day-to-day.
For all the latest info you need leading up to game time, tune in to Raptors Game Day on NBA TV Canada beginning at 6:30 PM.
Last Time They Met
We mentioned the Raptors dramatic win in Washington last December, but their last meeting took place in Toronto on Feb. 20, when they rattled off an astounding 18-4 run to earn a 109-104 comeback win. Six Raptors scored in double-figures in the victory, with Jarrett Jack scoring a team-high 23 points and adding eight assists in the victory.
You can relive two of the Raptors’ last two matchups with the Wizards on NBA TV Canada today, beginning at 4:30 PM.
You and I should have a little chat about this, starting just before tip-off in Washington. See you then.
Nov. 13, 2010, 11:30 AM
The Big Story: So, How Was The Move?
From a Raptors perspective, this is a matchup they've probably had circled since Chris Bosh decided to leave the only professional team he’d ever known to join Dwyane Wade and LeBron James in Miami this summer.
But early on, it's been very clear that Bosh has struggled somewhat in Miami. He's shot 50 per cent from the field in each of his last four games, but his overall production has dipped drastically (down to 14.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg and just 4.8 free throw attempts per game) and perhaps more tellingly, opposing power forwards have taken a flamethrower to the Heat's interior of late.
Check out these numbers from opposing bigs in the Heat's last three losses (coming in their last four games).
Emeka Okafor - 26 pts (12-13 FGM-A), 13 rebounds
Granted these were VERY close early losses against some top tier teams, but it's been a surprising turn for the Heat after finding an early groove by winning four straight.
That being said, the Raptors need to be very wary here against a Heat team that's rested and probably itching to try and get back on track.
Why To Watch: Those Other Two Guys
The Raptors can come into this one with some confidence after a thrilling 110-106 win over the Magic to open a back-to-back on Friday.
They'll need a similar effort against a Heat team that's going to bring a much different look.
Gone are the gaggle of perimeter shooters that Orlando thrives on and its anchor in the middle in Dwight Howard. Tonight, Miami's dynamic slashing wings in Dwayne Wade and LeBron James -- who remain Raptor killers -- are undoubtedly going to be focal points tonight.
Wade (19 career games vs. TOR) - 27.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 6.6 assists, 1.6 spg
Head coach Jay Triano came into Friday's contest with a solid game plan and made some great adjustments at halftime to keep the Magic firmly on its heels. It's going to be fascinating to see how he turns that around in 24 hours and tries to contend with these two elite-level talents.
Matt Devlin and Jack Armstrong will have much more on tonight's game with Raptors Game Day on NBA TV Canada, beginning at 7 PM.
Both Ed Davis (right knee meniscus) and Leandro Barbosa (left shoulder strain) will not play for the Raptors tonight. The status of David Andersen (flu) and Linas Kleiza (sore right Achilles) remains unknown as of this post.
For the Heat, sharpshooting forward Mike Miller remains sidelined with a right thumb injury.
Last Time They Met
The Raptors and Heat split their four-game series last season, with each team winning twice on their home floor. Throw those numbers out however as both teams have changed drastically since then.
The Raptors sit 21-33 overall against the Heat and are just 8-20 when they take their talents to South Beach (I had to do it once).
Nov. 12, 2010, 11:10 AM
Howard remains the premiere defensive and rebounding force in the league, nothing new there. But a summer of work on offence with Hall Of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon and another mysterious unnamed NBA star has suddenly made Howard even more potent at the other end of the floor and goosed his average by roughly 4.5 ppg early on this season.
Nov. 10, 2010, 3:10 PM
Nov. 10, 2010, 11:10 AM