Courtside: Raptors-Magic Report
Since T.J. Ford got hurt, Jose Calderon has proved there’s nothing he can’t do, and yes, that includes seal tricks.
Well, dog gam (sorry, Ron Artest). It’s been forever since I did a good old fashioned game report. And with the fantastic buzz the Raps are generating these days, what better a time to check in on them than when they went head-to-head against one of their Eastern Conference rivals?
Suffice to say that Toronto withstood a game, but shorthanded Orlando squad 113-103 to win its season-best fourth straight game.
As someone who’s watched this team closely from Day One, it’s safe to say it’s playing its best ball in five years.
And what made last night so special was that Dwight Howard, Orlando’s brilliant young man-beast, went off for a career night offensively with 32 points. How many times in the past could the Raps possibly expect to pull out a W under those circumstances?
Fortunately, the Raps had their own All-Star to answer back. And answer Chris Bosh did, to the tune of 41 points, also a career best. He wasn’t about to be outdone by his U.S. national teammate.
So the winning streak continues, making it nine of last 11 games in which the Raptors have emerged victorious. Can you feel it yet? Go ahead. Say it. P….pl…..playoffs. There. That wasn’t so hard, was it?
With 26 wins in 49 games now, Toronto remains in charge of the Titantic Division, three and a half games ahead of the Nets, who managed to keep pace last night by barely holding off the Hawks.
After winning three straight twice over the past couple of weeks, Toronto finally got over the hump for its first four-spot of the year. I guess we better enjoy this one for now with the Lakers and Pistons on tap this weekend.
Still, with the LA game at the ACC, don’t bet against the Raps. At 10 games over .500 at home, they need not fear anyone in their own house these days. It will be good acid test to finish this three-game homestand before a brief, but tough road trip.
Time for some in-game observations:
- Howard is freaking unbelievable. He sunk 13-for-14 shots and was basically unstoppable near the bucket. Already a dominant rebounder, his offensive game has grown by leaps and bounds this season. If Shaq had any class, he’d say ‘hey, kid, take my starting spot at the All-Star game.’
- While Toronto couldn’t match the season-best 122 points it dropped on the Clips on Sunday, 113 is nothing to sneeze at. That’s four straight games with at least 103 points.
- So that’s three games over .500. The last time Toronto enjoyed such a lofty perch? November 10, 2004, after a 4-1 start that got fans excited for about a week. But come on. We’re now almost 60 per cent through this season. Big difference. Anyone can go 4-1 for a week and change.
- Bosh was having a pretty good game with 10 points at halftime. Ya, that’s not bad. Then he dropped 31 in the second half. Thirty-one! That’s sick. He only managed eight boards, still good enough to pace the team, but it continued a run of four games without him topping 10. It’s kind of hard to moan about his work on the glass not being up to snuff when Bosh is throwing down points like a man possessed. Those ‘MVP! MVP!’ chants from the crowd in the fourth quarter obviously suggest that local fans agree.
- So we were talking about holding off the Nets earlier. Screw that. Let’s look up instead. Detroit, the top team in the East, suddenly looms just four games ahead of the Raptors. Maybe Saturday is shaping up like a statement game. Let’s hope it goes better than the last time the Raps had a statement game (January 9, when they lost 101-86 in New Jersey with first place in the Atlantic on the line). Of course, that seems like small potatoes in retrospect. Not to write off the Nets or anything, but they are in serious trouble right now, while Toronto is on cruise control.
- The last time the Raps were above .500 this late in the season? Try 2001-02, also the last time they made the playoffs, when the team finished 42-40. This group is acting and playing like a team, and it’s making everyone on the club better.
- Home cookin’, baby. Give the Raps six straight wins at the ACC. Go ahead. Just try to beat this team in Toronto. I dare you.
- Bosh had a tough time keeping a straight face when the fans started declaring him the MVP. And why not? He admits it’s a goal and if he gets there one day, it will be because he strapped the Raptors on his back and took them someplace significant. You get the feeling that process is well underway already.
- Home cookin’, Part II: Toronto now has more wins at home this season (17) than it achieved last year (15). And we’re barely past Ground Hog Day.
- Bosh shot well again, 13-for-25 from the field and 15-for-17 from the line as he passed his previous best of 37 set in December 2005 against the Pistons. Let’s hope the first-time starting All-Star has another big show in store for Detroit this weekend.
- Howard was also below his usual rebounding level. He managed nine, but, like Bosh, has seen a decrease in boards of late. He’s fallen off pace in his quest to become the youngest rebounding champion in NBA history, dropping to 11.9 RPG. Howard hasn’t had as many as 12 boards in a game in over two weeks after racking up some absolutely ridiculous totals earlier this year.
- So while Toronto surges, Orlando is crashing and burning. Injuries have played a major role, but this team has now dropped 11 of 14 to fall to .500 — the first time they’ve been even since November 10. The Magic is over is Mickey Land.
- Home cookin’, Part III: This home winning streak is the Raptors’ longest since they ended the 01-02 season with eight straight.
- Howard’s previous best offensive game was on January 10, when he enjoyed his first ever 30-point game against the Warriors. But scoring points isn’t really what makes Howard a dominant player. It’s his ability to control the glass, and dominate the paint with his shot-blocking and altering skills.
- The Raps shot “only” 52 per cent last night. I guess we were spoiled by that franchise record 70 per cent first half on Sunday. No one was particularly lights out Wednesday, but let’s give a shout out to Jose Calderon and his 3-for-3 night. He’s now shooting 52.9 per cent for the year. But as we all know, this is the weak part of his game.
- Howard had some complimentary things to say about Bosh, calling him a two man in a four man’s body. He even dropped by the Toronto locker room to visit with Bosh.
- I am loving how aggressive Toronto is looking on offense. The way the team moves the ball to get open looks — and is actually sinking them lately — is very impressive.
- For the Magic, the All-Star break can’t get here fast enough. This team needs some regrouping time. And getting back some of their wounded wouldn’t hurt, either. Grant Hill and Keyon Dooling are about a week away. Tony Battie needs to be checked out today to find out how bad his hand injury is, and Trevor Ariza is likely out until next month.
- Toronto is starting to get Orlando’s number. The Raps downed the Magic in Orlando in December 91-84 without Bosh in the lineup, and they have now beaten Orlando six of the past eight overall including five straight times in Toronto.
- Calderon was starting over T.J. Ford again, but honestly, at this point, it’s all good. Each of them had 10 points and 11 assists. The guard play from the Raptors right now is completely off the charts. I’d expect Ford to get the call to start Friday, but like I said, these two seem like interchangeable parts now.
- What’s happened to the Magic defense? Surrending 113 to the scorching Raptors is one thing, but they gave up 116 points to a struggling Bucks’ team on Tuesday. Like I said, it’s time for a break.
- The Magic made a game of this, pulling within two on a trey from J.J. Redick with under 7:30 to go. But Bosh, Calderon and Ford teamed up to answer. Bosh’s emphatic dunk that stretched the lead to eight with 6:30 left had a last nail in the coffin feel to it. It was too early for Chuck Swirsky to summon his salami and cheese, of course, but that didn’t stop me from wolfing down a snack of beef jerky and cheese doodles.
- Speaking of Redick, he still hasn’t found his Blue Devil touch, but he did nail a trio of treys on his way to 14 points in 29 minutes — both career highs for the rook.
- There’s nothing wrong with Orlando’s sights in general. It shot 50.6 per cent from the field after nailing 53 per cent on Tuesday. But the Magic let four Bucks score 20 or more and last night the Raptors had six players in double figures. Like I said, defensive struggles.
- But the real problem is that the Magic roadshow has turned pretty sour of late. This team started 7-4 away from home, but they’ve now lost three straight and 11 of 13 on the road. Small wonder Orlando has fallen back to .500 with that kind of road act.
- Battie, out with a bone chip in his hand, is the latest victim of the recent run of Magic injuries. His streak of 195 straight games came to end last night, but it was good news for Darko Milicic owners, as the big Yugoslavian got the start. Darko’s been putting up some nice offensive numbers of late and really deserves a chance to run with the PF job for a while. Battie’s injury could provide the impetus for a long-term switch.
- I get the sense Howard enjoys going up against the Raps. In eight previous tries, twice he’s had 20-rebound games and last time out he racked up 17 points with 13 rebounds, although he failed to show the shooting touch (6-for-17) he did last night.
- Andrea Bargnani absolutely posterized Bo Outlaw to start the second quarter, pulling the Raps within one and energizing the crowd. Bargnani is clicking really well with Bosh these days. Remember on draft day when analysts were left scratching their head wondering why Toronto would draft someone who played the same position as Bosh, saying the pair would never be able to play together? Not an issue, obviously.
- Anthony Parker puts up another strong game with a dozen points, although he was quiet in the second half. He had eight points with over four to play in the half after knocking down a huge 3-pointer to tie the game.
- Keith Bogans, who averages less than one 3-pointer per game, nails a buzzer beater from long distance at the end of the first quarter. Then he does it again to close the half. Crazy.
- Outlaw is still an aggressive defender, but at 35, he’s obviously lost a step or two over the years.