The Other Side: Toronto Raptors
The Toronto Raptors arrive at Verizon Center tonight as one of the greatest disappointments in the NBA this season -- and not because they have underachieved. The Raptors had unrealistic expectations to be a contender based mostly on what they accomplished two years ago and an offseason trade that has mostly flopped.
The Raptors won a franchise-best 47 games in 2006-07, when former Coach Sam Mitchell won coach of the year, but they took a step back last season, winning just 41. Last summer, Raptors President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo acquired Jermaine O'Neal from the Indiana Pacers, believing that his interior presence would provide the missing piece to championship aspirations. But the Raptors surrendered two important players -- T.J. Ford (the only player on the team who could create his own shot) and Rasho Nesterovic (a mediocre but serviceable center) -- in exchange for a big man who has been in decline because of injuries the past three seasons. The move essentially created more confusion for 2006 No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, who may be one of the least scrutinized -- around the league, at least -- top picks in recent memory (ah, Canadian obscurity).
The Raptors replaced Mitchell after getting off to an 8-9 start. After 17 games under Coach Jay Triano, it's blatantly obvious that Mitchell wasn't the problem. Toronto has dropped like a cement-covered bar bell, going 5-12. The Raptors are currently last in the Atlantic Division. They started the calendar with two impressive home wins against Houston and Orlando, but they lost, 107-97, in Milwaukee on Monday and allowed the Bucks to score the final 13 points of the game.
Here is what you should know about the Raptors heading into the today's game:
1. Jermaine O'Neal and Jose Calderon Are Out
Center Jermaine O'Neal and Gilbert Arenas's favorite point guard, Jose Calderon, didn't travel with the team. O'Neal, the Raptors' second leading scorer at 14 points per game, has missed the past four games with a right knee contusion. Calderon left Friday's win against Houston with a strained right hamstring. Calderon was expected to break out with T.J. Ford shipped to Indiana. He is averaging just 13.1 points and 8.7 assists this season, nearly identical numbers to last season, but he has been awesome from the foul line. Calderon has made 75 consecutive free throws dating back to last season.
2. The Magician Has Disappeared and Reappeared
Andrea Bargnani, known as "Il Mago" (The Magician) in Italy, has been known to vanish for much of his time in Toronto, much to the frustation of Raptors fans. Many have tried to speculate on why Bargnani has struggled. Maybe he just needed to be on the floor. Lately, Bargnani has been popping out of the hat like a rabbit. Since being inserted into the starting lineup on Dec. 31 in place of the injured O'Neal, Bargnani is averaging 21 points and 6.3 rebounds the past four games. Bargnani's season averages are 11.1 points and 4.5 rebounds. ESPN's John Hollinger said Bargnani's play might put O'Neal on the trading block.
3. Chris Bosh Is Getting Back to Being Steady
This has not been a fun season in Toronto, but Bosh is still averaging a career-high 23.7 points and shooting 49.7 percent from the floor. He tapered off some in December while adjusting to a new coach and averaged just 20.6 points. After a blazing start in October and November, he averaged 26.8 points and openly campaigned for the MVP award. He's getting back on track in the New Year, averaging 24.3 points the first three games in January. Although the team has been struggling, Bosh said Colangelo doesn't need to make a trade to turn around the season.
You might notice Bosh wearing a huge, bulky brace on his knee. He's been wearing it ever since O'Neal's season nearly ended in late November when he hurt his left knee in a game against New Jersey.
Bosh has yet to put out his highly-anticipated follow-up to his all-star voting video, but he did battle with Los Angeles Clippers guard Baron Davis for the funniest skit. If you've got some spare time, check it out this video:
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