4/21/14

The Raptors Face An Uphill Climb In This Series

I would like to say what I saw in game one was a surprise to me but it really wasn’t. The Raptors came out a little but intimidated by the moment perhaps. The Nets took control and led through the majority of this game. The Raptors defensive play was struggling down the stretch in the regular season and no surprise it continued here in game one. What added to that was Terrence Ross getting into foul trouble and when he checked out John Salmons was no match for Joe Johnson.

I also commented during the season the Raptors reliance on the three point shot would cost them in the playoffs and it would not be as effective. In game one the Raptors were struggling from the three point line and did not have a lot of success with it. Some of that was feeling forced to take some with no shot clock for part of the game. Which as it turns out was caused by the ESPN broadcast but can’t blame them not like they are ever here right?

DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson who I expressed my personal joy they got to experience this playoff atmosphere did not exactly thrive in it. DeRozan could not make a shot to save his life in this game and Johnson was not nearly as effective and I think before this series ends we could see Patrick Patterson inserted in the starting line-up.

All of this said the story of this game and perhaps the series happened before the ball even went in the air for it to begin. Masai Ujiri was out from of the ACC in Maple Leaf Square that had been occupied by Raptor fans in a friendly takeover. He addressed the crowd that was in the thousands and looked tremendous for people across this country and an eye opener for people south of the border.

But on to the reason we started this story as Masai addressed the crowd he concluded his remarks with F- Brooklyn which drew a massive roar from the fans. Ujiri would make a half hearted apology at halftime but stating that he still doesn’t like those guys in reference to the Nets.

Many are wondering what could have happened to Masai to cause him to lose his senses like this. He claimed the excited crowd got the best of him but I am not buying that. I think Masai knew exactly what he was doing and it was pretty damn brilliant. The focus after game one was on what he said before it started and not how bad his team played in the game.

Maybe I am giving Masai Ujiri more credit than he deserves with this but I do not think I am. Masai is not a stupid man and I am sure he knows realistically his Raptors are in tough in this series and wanting to take the focus or pressure off of them makes a lot of sense.

If anything it got the media talking about this series and made for some titles in newspapers that were colourful to say the least. In the end this series is playing out as advertised as Paul Pierce showed why the Nets wanted him in the first place in the off-season. He has experience and is a clutch performer. In these playoff games when it can come down to just a couple possessions he is the most clutch guy in the series.

Masai will not be able to come up with anything that changes the fact that Raptors must win game 2 to have any chance in this series at all. Heading into this series I thought it might compare to the 2007 series between the two franchises. It might actually end up like the series in 1999 with Knicks where a young and talented Raptors team was swept aside by a very experienced Knicks team.

The Raptors looked out classed and despite the fans and Raptors complaining about the refs it only served to add to the problem and took away their focus from the actual task of beating the Nets. It is getting to the point where the Raptors and fans come off as whiners about the officiating which doesn’t help the situation at all. It is almost becoming a conspiracy like theory at this point. I have argued and debated this with Raptors fans on Twitter to the point I am tired of doing it. Even if I am going to accept the theory that the refs are against the Raptors I am pretty confident fans chanting things like “Refs You Suck,” and F-U Refs is not helping. Nor are players constantly questioning calls and Dwane Casey as well. Someone suggest Casey should take a tech and make a point. It would only cost Dwane money and is not going to change anything in a positive way.

Here is the thing and it’s tough to admit or accept but at the end of the day the simple fact was that the Nets were better. It really is that simple. The Raptors will need to be much better to avoid the same fact in game number two.

4/19/14

Many Emotions As Raptors Return To Playoffs

I am writing this about an hour before Game one of the Raptors return to the playoffs. I find it a time of a lot of emotions rolling through me. While I have went on the record saying I don’t expect the Raptors to win that doesn’t mean I am not proud of them or cheering for them.

I just look at things through two heck maybe even three different lenses. There is the one that I have always tried to maintain in 6 years of doing the Dino Nation Blog.

Honesty


That means being straight and not getting caught up in all the hype and hoopla that surrounds this team. Let’s face it people have been dying for this to happen for years to see this team return to the playoffs. Vince Carter and Chris Bosh both lost faith in this franchises ability to compete for a NBA Championship. They left and we remained and in that sense this is some form of validation for the fans that have remained.

I don’t think this group is as good as that team Carter took to one shot away from being in the Eastern Conference Finals. I don’t think anyone can honestly think the Raptors will get that close this time around. Even if I am wrong and the Raptors do find a way past the Nets the Miami Heat would be the next opponent and that will not be pretty.

Loyalty

I think of the six year journey of the Dino Nation Blog and think of two Raptors that have been here for the majority of it. Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan have been here to pick up the pieces and deserve a moment and a day like this.

I started to have access to this team and on that trip up to Ottawa to cover training camp I met a young man who like me loved his mother and wanted to succeed in part for her. Something I can relate to on a personal level. That young man was of course DeMar DeRozan and to have watched him work and grow and now have a daughter of his own has been a tremendous thrill.

To get to know this loveable guy that has embraced this city and the fans in it like no guy since Jerome Williams was barking up a storm has been great too. I have always supported Amir Johnson and DeMar and loved them for all the effort they put in even when not as many people we cheering and supporting the cause.

I was one that always was against the people that wanted to see both of these guys traded and moved during the rough times in the last 5 years. When some prior to this season suggested the Raptors should keep Gay and trade DeRozan I said they were wrong. When Colangelo gave DeRozan an extension that many said was crazy and to much money I said just wait DeRozan will grow into that contract and earn that money.  Years earlier I said the same about Amir Johnson.

I have love and faith in these guys as people regardless of if they play for the Raptors or not. I am happy they made it to see this day.

History

I remain somewhat grounded in the not so great history of this franchise. We have seen these optimistic moments before. It has not always worked out in the end. While many say this is different and this is the time the Raptors will finally get it right I am one of the few that remains unconvinced of that fact.

I kind of get made ill by the marketing madness of MLSE as they push this return to the playoffs for all it is worth. I am not down with RTZ or WE The North or any other marketing slogan. I am also not down with ticket prices going up across the board at the first sign of success.

I hate to see the loyalty of this fan base exploited but in some strange way I admire how MLSE is able to do it without blinking.

It has been a great year for the Raptors while for me personally it has been a year of struggle. It many ways feels like the end of a journey to get to this point. I see history repeating itself like 2007 when these to clubs met. I am not that big into believing in miracles but I realize they can sometimes occur.

Still this is a moment of survival in many ways and for those of you that have stuck with it with this team and with this blog today regardless of the result of the game is some reason to celebrate even if it might not turn out to be as good as advertised. The point is we all made it to see this day. A day that when this year started, truly no one could have imagined possible this isn’t suppose to be happening but it is. 

4/17/14

Raptors Vs Nets Could Be A Replay Of 2007

If the Raptors are just happy to be in the playoffs they will be out of them pretty quickly. The Nets have made it pretty clear that they targeted the Raptors to be their first round opponent.  Go back further though and Terrence Ross as part of a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) said that the Raptors wanted to face the Nets. So it is safe to say that with this series of Division Rivals it is likely to get heated in a hurry.

Many look back to the Raptors last team to win the Atlantic Division that faced this same Nets franchise and it was a similar storyline. The much more experienced Nets against the young upstart Raptors. The main difference in that series was the presence of Vince Carter the public enemy of Toronto. Still a lot of things that applied to that series apply to this one as well.

The pressure in this series is squarely on the Raptors to begin with. They will have to defend their home court while trying to get out all the playoff butterflies that are sure to be there. A task the Raptors in 2007 were not able to accomplish losing the first game of the series and having the play catch-up the entire rest of the series. The main advantage this Raptors team would have compared to the 2007 Raptors is the ability to win on the road. That might be negated by the fact the Nets will be playing in Brooklyn not New Jersey and the excitement level of that crowd will be far greater you would have to imagine.

The Nets entered this season with big expectations and in the regular season they failed to live up to them. The Raptors entered the season with next to no expectations and a fan base that had strong support for looking to land a top pick to draft Andrew Wiggins. So the biggest thing the Raptors may face is the whole mindset of being happy to be here. Even the idea of brighter days ahead is nice to think and say but nothing is for certain. That begins with Kyle Lowry who will be a free agent when all of this playoff madness comes to a close. Things like injures and other unknowns can always happen.

If the Raptors have any kind of doubt the Nets will smell it like a shark smelling blood and the veteran team they have should be able to take advantage.

The other key to this will be the Raptors struggle to close out close games. It has been the one thing that the Rudy Gay trade has cost this team. Gay was the clear choice to finish games out and take the big shots. The Raptors have struggled to find a replacement for that. Lowry has at times filled the role or attempted too. DeRozan has as well both failing to have positive results.

The advantage in coaching experience the Raptors have is somewhat balanced out by the fact Kidd played under Casey in Dallas and should have a fairly clear understanding of his defensive sets and philosophies.

It should be a good series but all the little intangibles in it seem to favour the Nets if you’re looking at it objectively.  Objectivity has been in short supply during the last month or so when it comes to the Raptors performance. This team being declared the best of all time for having the most wins is really not exactly putting much thought into things. These Raptors do however do one thing that will serve them well in these playoffs and that is they always seem to fight and scrap no matter how far behind they might get. They will give you an honest 48 minutes of effort. It just might not be enough.

If you have any hopes of the Raptors winning this series they must win Game 1 if they fail to do so I see a fate that is very similar to that of the team in 2007 that lost to this Nets franchise.

Boo and hiss at me and hope as I do that I am wrong but I see this series as the Nets in 6 games.

4/16/14

Shuffle Up And Playoffs

The Raptors are going to the playoffs and will be hosting a game 1 these things we know entering into Wednesday. What remains unclear is what seed the Raptors will finish and just who they are going to face. Based on last night a lot of people are raising an eyebrow wondering if the Nets are trying to get away from the Bulls by losing. Washington plays Boston on this Wednesday night and with a win and a Nets loss to Cleveland would leave them with the same record but Washington would gain the 5th seed.

The Nets are banking on the Raptors winning against the Knicks and securing 3rd or the Bulls losing to Bobcats who could move up to 6th with a Wizards loss. Basically the only series in the East we know will happen for certain is the Pacers will play the Hawks in the 1 vs.8 match-up. Everything else is up in the air. When the wheel stops spinning the Raptors should hope for the Wizards to be their dance partner. Regardless of if this is in the 3 vs. 6 or 4 vs. 5 match-up.

Some talk about trying to avoid the Heat in the second round but in all reality when you haven’t made the playoffs in so long can you really is thinking beyond the first round? I would say no considering the Raptors have only won a first round series once and it was so long ago it wasn’t even a best of 7 series.

The NBA starts all games at 8pm in order to keep teams from knowing results and in theory playing to win. Safe to say everyone will be scoreboard watching and looking to do what they can to get the match-up they want.

For what it’s worth if I had to pick the Raptors three potential match-ups I would go with the following:

  • Nets over Raptors in 6
  • Raptors over Wizards in 7
  • Bobcats over Raptors in 7

So safe to say for me the Raptors getting a Wizards match-up is the only way I see Raptors advancing. Some may see the Bobcats prediction as insulting but given the Raptors terrible history with Charlotte and match-up issues I see it as a very challenging series.

In any case by the end of the day Raptors will be back in the post-season and have a first round opponent who  would have thought that at October. The answer is pretty much nobody.

4/12/14

Raptors Lose and Win In The Same Night

The Raptors continued to play very concerning basketball and finally paid for it losing at home to the New York Knicks battling to just get into the playoffs. The Raptors with a win would have secured their second Division Title after first winning one in 2007.  By the end of the night a Nets loss would give the Raptors their second Division Title.

People seem to be all caught up in the fact the Raptors have been winning but paying little attention to how they are winning and who they are actually beating. Instead dreaming some pretty unrealistic dreams of what this team could accomplish in the post season.

Look closer and you see the cracks in this team and the fact their defensive play which becomes vital come the post-season has been taking a dramatic decline. The Raptors despite winning the Division did slip to fourth in the conference and a match-up with the Nets in the first round.

This is De-Ja-Vu to the Raptors first division title when Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and crew faced the Raptors in the first round. In the end the Raptors were dismantled by the Nets and lost the series in 6 games with Jose Calderon committing a turnover to lose game 6.

Kidd now coaches the Nets and they call Brooklyn home and not New Jersey. They have battled back from a poor start to the season and have been playing some excellent basketball to even get in a race with Raptors for the Division Title. The most impressive thing on the Nets resume is a season sweep of the Miami Heat a team the Raptors have failed to beat ever since James and Bosh arrived in Miami.

Some fans are just satisfied with the Raptors unexpected success and are just happy to be back in the post season. So are the folks at MLSE who have rewarded fans with about a 6-7% hike of ticket prices for next season. They want your money long before Kyle Lowry has decided to stay or go as well.

As I have consistently said I am thrilled for DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson to get to experience the playoffs here in Toronto. They have earned that right going through some just terrible years to get here. I just don’t like their chances as the Raptors are far removed from playing their best basketball of the season.

The Raptors are labelling this playoff run “Northern Uprising” but the reality is more likely it will be just another disappointment unless some things change between now and the start of the playoffs. The Raptors have been trying to outscore people and not stop people of late. That is not the way the playoffs work.

It would not surprise me to see the Raptors fail to make it out of the first round. A match-up with the Nets would likely make that a reality. Even playing the Bobcats would not make me feel all that good given the Raptors failure to perform against this team over the years. The Wizards is the obvious match-up the Raptors would be a legit favourite in. John Wall in his first experience in post-season could be a tough task to deal with.

In the end this was an unexpected and great season for the Raptors compared to their lacklustre history. Still even if this team gets the most wins in franchise history which is very likely with only having to win two of their last 3 games against the Bucks, Pistons and Knicks. I still would not consider them the best Raptors team in history. Vince Carter’s 47 win team was better than this group. You can even argue Bosh’s group that won the other Division Title might be as well.

What the real story will be is what happens next season and can this team maintain and improve in an Eastern Conference and Division that will both most certainly improve around them. The Raptors I said back in January at best would get to the second round and nothing has changed my mind to think anything more than that.

I totally understand why long suffering fans just want to enjoy the moment and this return to the post-season. I just don’t see the Raptors as any real contender or threat and when they are that I will get excited. To me this is just something I have seen before and really doesn’t get me all that excited.

Miracles can happen I suppose but when you have never beat the team that will win the Eastern Conference since 2010 it is hard to imagine some magical run to the finals. Heck the way the Raptors are playing of late it is hard to imagine them surviving the first round.

Life is about timing and most of the time the Raptors timing has been terrible in their 19 year history. This just might be the latest example of it.

I leave you now to rose coloured glasses and dreams of grandeur about the post-season. While I get told for the millionth time this season what a negative person I am for being realistic and honest about my feelings and thoughts on this basketball team.

I will give this group this though they will go down swinging because that is something they have done all year. In the playoffs though given their play of late I am not all that optimistic that alone will be enough.

4/8/14

How Important is Winning Is A Question For All Of Us To Answer

The Toronto Raptors keep finding ways to win despite injuries and not really playing at a high level at times. This team will more than likely end up having the best record in team history and already is the first Raptors team to have a .500 or better road record. Yesterday another hurdle or distraction came about with the early morning DUI arrest of Jonas Valanciunas.

While this team will build a case for being considered the best Raptors team of all time I remain unconvinced that they are that. They are for me the most over-achieving Raptors team of all time without question. They have some how managed to keep this train on the tracks despite facing all kinds of adversity in the last few weeks. It has been pretty remarkable to say the least. Getting wins over Houston and Indiana without Kyle Lowry was to say the least unexpected.

This Raptors team seems to rise and fall to the level of competition that they face on a given night. They struggled just as hard to beat the worst team in the NBA the Milwaukee Bucks as they did the Pacers or Rockets. I am not all that confident in where this team can go once the playoffs arrive but they should be able to maintain their position with the schedule they have remaining. That said I expect them to make that more challenging than it should be.

The Raptors while losing Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson for the last few games have welcome back Patrick Patterson who has made an impact. Still for the Raptors to have a serious chance in the post-season they need to be healthy to have any chance.

The Raptors announced that Jonas will indeed play despite his legal issues which should surprise no one. It should disappoint you though, but with all that is going on for this team in terms of winning likely won’t most. The Raptors will no doubt stick to the standard of everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Which is technically true but the moral message that one of your players is driving around while under the influence is something that should not be taken lightly.

Issuing statements of disappointment and the fact they take these matters seriously is all well and good. However the matter of drinking and driving is a serious one and unfortunately one that sports in general as I said yesterday in talking with Lawyer Tina Kaye is not taken serious enough.

This is the time when that sports being a business stuff I am not all that cool with. The Raptors at the end of the day want to win basketball games and by not playing a healthy player that has an impact on them winning and losing they aren't going to do that. An organization that in bad times has preached about integrity and players being good representatives in the community at the end of the day is about winning. It is no shock really and the Raptors are not unique to any other sports team in what they have done.

Still it is not being over dramatic to say that anytime anyone gets behind the wheel of a car and is under the influence of alcohol they are risking their own life any passengers they have and most importantly the lives of innocent people. I could care less about the Raptors playoff chances in comparison to the lives of innocent people.

I have always stated in this blog consistently over a great many topics that at the end of the day while I may love basketball there is a greater things in this world and life in general. It is in these times where you realize that this is just a sport at the end of the day meant for are entertainment and enjoyment. It is not something that means more to me than someone’s life and well being.

You will get the standard stuff that Jonas is young and this is a stupid mistake that someone makes when they are young. It is true but it is also true this is a mistake that could have and thank God didn’t have far greater and more significant consequences. 

Winning over everything should never be the mindset. Sometimes you need to realize that there are more important things than that. I have no doubt that by the end of all of this the Raptors will have and maybe legal system as well requires Jonas to do community service on this matter.

The hope is at the end of the day he has truly learned something from all of this. The fact he got caught rightly or wrongly makes you assume this was not the first time it has happened. The thing that is most disturbing or distressing about this for me is professional athletes with the money and means they have this should NEVER happen. If you want to have fun and drink go rent a limo and party it up. I have no right to tell someone how to live their life. That changes when they make choices that could take lives away of others.

Many times on Twitter during holidays or times of the year when people indulge in alcohol I have always encouraged them to have fun and not drink and drive. It is something I firmly believe in and any time someone does be it a friend’s dad or a pro athlete it makes me shake my head that people are still doing this in 2014 with all the work that people have done to prevent it from happening. Clearly that work is not done and may never be. 

4/7/14

Valanciunas Arrested For DUI.

News broke late this afternoon that Jonas Valanciunas was arrested on a charge of DUI. Here is the full story and details from story on News Talk 1010. The Raptors have issues statements on behalf of the team and one from Jonas himself.

TEAM STATEMENT "We were made aware this morning of the incident involving Jonas Valanciunas and are disappointed he has put himself in this situation. We take this matter very seriously as we have the highest expectations for all members of our organization.At this time we are continuing to gather information and we will comment further when appropriate"

JONAS VALANCIUNAS STATEMENT "I hold myself to a high standard and take my role as a member of the Toronto Raptors very seriously. I apologize to the organization, my teammates, my family and my fans, and regret any negativity this incident has brought upon them."

Here at the DNB we reached out to Toronto Criminal Attorney Tina Kaye to walk us through the legal issues involved.


The audio cut out at the end all you missed was the word seriously. One thing we did not touch on is how long this would take to get to court assuming it gets that far. According to Tina Kaye the standard length of time would see an initial court appearance 4-6 weeks from the arrest. If it were to go all the way to trial it would take up to a year. Obviously that court appearance based on this standard time line could occur somewhere in the second round or conference finals.However, I have been told that it most likely would not require Valanciunas to appear only his counsel would be required.

Raptors have been chugging along on basketball court fairly well despite injuries and now this latest distraction or hurdle has been placed in front of the Raptors. More importantly this is an issue with athletes that make millions of dollars that just shouldn't happen in 2014 and still does. It is unacceptable and there really is no excuse.

Thanks to Tina for her explaining the legal issues attached to this matter.