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3 In The Key – Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview Vs. Clippers

At one point in time I was a big fan of the Los Angeles Clippers. I think they were probably my second favourite club after the Raps. They had a young and athletic team, a penchant for acquiring Duke players (Brand and Maggette) and I even had a Darius Miles jersey!

(Yes, I realize that may have just put half our our readers off this blog for good…)

But the team just never could put it all together.

Injuries of course were always a factor…but so were substance abuse policy violations, cheap ownership, boneheaded GM decisions and style over substance on the court.

Hence you have the team Peter Vescey refers to as “his Paper Clips.”

This year has been perhaps the worst yet as the team has suffered injury after injury and is still trying to get key players back from horrific injuries that occurred before this season even began!

To top it off, in recent weeks we’ve been hearing rumours of in-fighting in the Clippers organization and recently I asked Kevin from Clipperblog about this and more in our weekly edition of “Blogging with the Enemy.”

1) RaptorsHQ: From the media we’re hearing lots of different things in Clipperland; Dunleavy and Sterling aren’t on the same page, Cassell seems to have one foot out the door, Brand will opt out of his contract, Maggette will eventually be traded, Livingston is being fitted with Robo-cop like joints…the list goes on and on. What’s the actual state of Clipperland and what do you see the team doing come this offseason? (Free agents, draft etc.)

Clipperblog: There’s certainly some friction, though DTS has historically demonstrated that he won’t pay coaches not to work, so I don’t think an imminent Dunleavy departure is in the cards. Cassell might pursue a mutually agreeable buy-out with the Clips. But I can’t see Elton opting out of a lucrative contract coming off a devastating injury. Maggette won’t be traded, if for no other reason than the cap space is far more valuable than whatever the Clips could get in return. Livingston is a big question mark, yes. During the off-season, I expect the Clips to let Maggette walk, which would free up the 3 for Al Thornton. They’ll need to find a quality combo guard to replace Cassell, and will likely opt for a PG in the draft.

2) RaptorsHQ: Chris Kaman seems to the lone bright spot on the team this season. Are Kaman’s numbers a case of “there aren’t many other options unless we decide to play Powell a lot,” or has the Ka-Man really taken the next step as an elite center in the league?

Clipperblog: I think his improvement is tangible. For one, he’s in the best shape of his career, which has made him even more agile. Second, he’s learned how to anticipate and recognize double teams. His rebounding stats are likely inflated, but you can’t frown on a guy’s numbers just because there isn’t a legitimate power forward alongside him to help out on the glass.

3) RaptorsHQ: Clippers at Raptors – what do you see as the keys for LA to steal one at the Air Canada Centre?

Clipperblog: That’s a tough one. Chris Bosh is a match-up nightmare for any team, and particularly for the Clips, who alternate Tim Thomas and Al Thornton at the 4. I’ve been really impressed by the Raptors’ defense. Moon does a great job of staying in front of guys, which will be a deterrent to Maggette. Calderon is very serviceable, too, so Cassell might have trouble posting him up — which Sam loves to do against opposing points. The only possible advantage the Clips will have on the offensive end is Kaman vs. the Raptors’ bigs. When Chris gets going, his footwork makes him a very deceptive force to a C/F who’s not familiar with his repertoire.

A big shout out to Kevin for that info and his discussion of Kaman leads us into the first of our three keys:

1) Keep Kaman in check. Last time these clubs met the Raptors did a nice job of making Kaman work for each shot. Not many easy put-backs and dunks, no lay-ups off of pick and rolls, etc, etc. They need to do that again tonight. Toronto has issues with points in the paint and if Kaman gets going early it could open things up for the rest of LA. Bargnani therefore must do a number on Kaman keeping him off the glass. On the other end, I’m hoping to see Andrea, who has been red-hot of late, take it to Kaman aggressively from the tip. Kaman can’t (and won’t want to) guard Andrea on the perimeter so it’s imperative that Bargnani help set the tone for this game early.

2) Make the Clippers shoot jump-shots. A huge factor in Toronto’s win in Los Angeles was that they prevented the Clippers from getting too many drives to the basket. LA’s most dangerous offensive weapon Corey Maggette in particular was frustrated, and launched 3-pointer after 3-pointer, not his usual style. I’ll be looking tonight to see Jamario Moon and other Raptors’ defenders keep Maggette and co. on the perimeter shooting contested shots. While LA has hardly been a juggernaut this year, they still have a number of guys who can go off on any night. The team gave the Celtics a good run on Wednesday night and Toronto can’t afford to assume this is an automatic W.

Toronto would rather see Al Thornton taking shots like these tonight then getting to the rim…
3) Use TJ’s momentum. And that brings me to my final key. Toronto has a chance to put this one away for good if they jump on LA early and often. We saw this against Miami and Toronto has the shooting ability to do it again tonight. In particular, the home-crowd should be fired up with TJ’s return so the Raptors need to use this energy to their advantage.
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Tip-In: Toronto Raptors Post Game: Brutal

It’s amazing how much can go on in 24 hours. Lately work has turned my world upside down and it has been hard to find a spare minute. It was just yesterday AM that I told Franchise I would write the re-cap (much to his surprise) but that I would probably have to tape the game and watch it late night. At the time I was thinking there shouldn’t be much to write about anyway because the Raps should take this one in a walk.

During the day I pondered the significance of the Raps 1000th game. The final conclusion was two fold. The first was that although it was a milestone this was nothing that significant. Second, TSN in lieu of the 1000th game proved for the 1000th time that it should not becovering basketball (Matt Bonner on the All-time Raps team?!). Nevertheless, I figured I would talk about the easy win and how the Raps were really getting their act together.

Well a few things happened between then and now. The first event was that I was graciously offered courtside seats. I have never sat on the floor and this was an experience not soon to be forgotten. Some of the noteworthy activity included the lead singer of Alexis On Fire and his date Leah Miller (dead beat) the Much Music VJ looking like they would have had more fun pulling out each others fingernails then watching a basketball game, sitting near CB4’s girlfriend (seriously she must have called him “baby” 300 times over the course of the game and apparently had some inside joke with Josh Powell about muffins), and getting to listen to these guys talk on the floor. Hearing the guys trash talk and communicate while playing D is amazing although I have to mention that I couldn’t understand a thing Chris Kaman was saying….although no-one seemed to understand what that dude was talking about because I think cave-man stopped being an internationally recognized language 2000 years ago.

The other big change over the past 24 hours is that now I have to write about how the Raps soiled the bed against a weak and very shorthanded Clippers team rather than how they marched towards another victory. Right off the bad I have to say that this was a horrific loss. Just brutal and here’s why.

First, the Raps did a horrible job against Mr. Maggette. Early on it was clearly evident that the former Dukie had it going on and was feeling it. Yet nevertheless the Raps left Maggette open for easy shots and defenders were consistently late on their rotations. If you wonder why Raps fans dream about having Maggette at the three spot now you know why. Not only was Maggette feeling it from the outside but he got to the line 13 times! In the first half he couldn’t miss yet the Raps for some reason didn’t seem to think that double teaming his was a good idea. Mitchell did a poor job adjusting on this evening. But this folks is not why this was a bad loss…

Despite Maggette’s solid performance this game was actually won when he was on the bench. From the latter stages of the third quarter up to the 5 minute mark of the fourth Coach Dunleavy kept Maggette off the floor yet it was during this same period of time that the Clips went on their run. During this stretch the ageless one Cuttino Mobley and Al Thornton took over on the offensive end. Of course it’s not like Mobley or Thornton were unconscious. The run was the result of the Raps sticking to “Plan A”.

Ahhh…..Plan A. It can be described in two words – Jump Shot. Unlike the game against Miami the Raps were having a tough time finding their stroke and once again there was no Plan B. Having no Plan B is simply unacceptable. Despite numerous opportunities to tie or take the lead in the game late the Raps simply would not stop shooting from the outside. It was like the Toronto team was allergic to the rim. Possession after possession the Raps would jack-up a 15-20 footer to no avail. Meanwhile on the other end the Clips, in particular the aforementioned Al Thornton, were attacking at every opportunity. What made this even more frustrating was that the Raps had the Clippers in the bonus early on in the fourth. It wasn’t that the Raps had to get to the hoop and score, they just needed to get fouled.

I must ask, how does BC think this approach is going to work, in particular in the playoffs? This team clearly needs a player on the wing that can create his own shot and get to the rim. Objectively when you look at this team you would think that it would be Jamario Moon but for whatever reason he is hesitant to attack on a regular basis. I’m not sure if it’s because this Toronto team is a little soft, or whether it’s just a skill set this team is missing on the perimeter. Either way this needs to be addressed soon whether by trade or in the draft.

Now there are some positives to take from the game. To me the most refreshing thing to see was the play of Andrea on the defensive end. Quite to the contrary of what one poster believes Bargs did a fantastic job on this evening against Kaman. Despite the fact that Kaman had a double-double, down the stretch Bargs was solid against this much improved big man. He held his position, didn’t leave his feet and didn’t give Kaman any easy hoops. There is no doubt that Bargs, like many others, was guilty of settling from the jump shot, but seeing solid defense against such a solid player is a very good sign.

The other big positive was the return of TJ Ford to his home court. The crowd game his a solid standing ovation when he checked into the game. Ford was also solid in his 12 minutes of game action handing out 6 assists.

Last, a big props to Purolator and the Raps who donated 100 pounds of food to the Daily Food Bank for each rebound grabbed by the Raps.

Nevertheless it is hard not to have a bad taste in your mouth after this loss. In fact, it was not until after having completed this recap I realized I didn’t stick to our usual format. The loss really makes me question whether we are not destined for another first round loss. Even watching a rookie school CB4 down the stretch made me wonder what we can expect when the “second season” comes around.

If one thing is for sure it’s that this was a game that got away and in a tight battle for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs one that could come back to bite the Raps.