Friday, October 31, 2008
3 thinks I liked:
1. Andrea: What a game from the Italian big man. Taking it to the hoop, and playing the kind of inside game that none of us thought possible. Yes, he did it against Rony Turriaf, but I give the effort a standing ovation. Il Busto, no more? We shall see, hopefully he can abuse the Bucks tomorrow night.
2. Crunch Time Chris Bosh: CB4 delivering the goods. He is getting the job done in crunch time. Nothing more needs to be said. He looks like he is going to lead us to the promise land (As an aside, for those of you who believe in the D Wade resurrection, why is it so hard to picture Bosh rising that that level as well?).
3. Over time defense: Actually this applies to late in the 4th quarter defense as well. Congrats to Jamario and AP who were able to shut down Corey Maggette in the 4th quarter. The aggressiveness they showed, definitely showed up on the stat sheet through forced turnovers and points of TO. If the Raps keep this up they will be tough to beat.
3 things that made me go hmmmm:
1. Ah, Jason. Just when I thought you turned the corner, there you are trying to drive again. He was ice cold tonight because Golden State sold out on his 3. Give the Warriors credit, they locked down on the Raptors perimeter. Still, why not just hoist a couple up, its not that much worse than eating it from Biendris.
2. Adjusting to the officials. Personally, I thought the officiating was horrendous, but I still think the Raps should have adjusted to it, and started to flop around on defense. This one is on Smitch, he has a team full of Euros, he needs to take advantage of their soccer training.
3. Jermaine O'Neal's focus. Man, JO needs to keep his shit together. He was too thrown off his games by Tim Donaghy (wait, he's in prison? who was that on the court then?). Still JO came back to provide the Raps with some much needed muscle late in the 4th, and Andrea took them home in OT.
All that said, what a game from Andrea. Let's hope he can keep this up.
Dear Most Valuable Losers:
Yesterday, continuing a long-standing trend, another Toronto reporter took a cheap shot at Leaf fans. This time it was Howard Berger who called us "losers" but we've seem the same cookie-cutter article from virtually everyone who covers the team.
Quite frankly, we've had enough.
As fans, we believe that those most deserving of our praise and our scorn are directly involved in the game, whether it's on the ice, in the press box or in the executive corridors. Fans don't pencil in the starting five, make bad trades, or write the headlines of the day and shouldn't be blamed (or praised) for the totals in the wins and loss column.
Hockey may be just a game but it's also a passion. If you're looking for passionate hockey coverage that offers insight and humour and you're sick of being blamed for supporting a team you're passionate about, you have a better option.
It's time to leave the media superstars behind. There's compelling, timely, wide-ranging content waiting just for you online in the Barilkosphere.
Many have found this better way of following the Leafs, but not every Leafs fan has been so lucky. Please send this message to your fellow Leaf fans via e-mail or postings on message boards and let them know that they do have a choice.
We hope you'll join us here in the Barilkosphere and become regular readers.
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3 things I liked:
1. 4th quarter Jason Kapono: What's this Kapono decided to just catch it and let'er rip? He also scored 10 pts in the 4th on 3/4 shooting from long distance? This is why the Raps are paying you $6 million dollars. Nice way to close out the game.
2. Defensive Energy: I loved that the Raps put the clamps on Philly whenever they decided to make any attempt at a run. Moon and Parker were extremely aggressive in their perimeter defense, and Bosh and O'Neal protected the rim with abandon. Now, the blocked shots total wasn't that high, but it was clear that Bosh and JO altered plenty of Sixer attempts (36%, damn Philly can't shoot!). Plus the Raptors forced the Sixers into a ton of turnovers, which I think is the key measure of a great defensive basketball team (rather than shooting %)
3. Chris Bosh: Wow, what a start to the year. He had the eye of the Tiger going on last night. Just attacking the rim on offense and he was a beast on the glass and in his own end. You couldn't have asked Bosh to do more, and yet it seemed like he had plenty more to give if the Raps weren't up by 10 with a couple mins left. People have been worried about the Raptors lack of a one on one, drive the lane type scorer. Well, I have a feeling Bosh is going to be that guy for us. His first step looks devastating, in fact, I don't think I can think of one big man in the entire NBA that will be able to take away Bosh's drive.
3 things that made my go hmmmmm:
1. Quarters 1 through 3 Jason Kapono: What the hell Kapono?? 2 travels and a blocked shot!!!! Way to take advantage of the new found space with JO and Bosh. Whenever I see Kapono dribble, I go into a blind rage. Why does JK insist on doing anything except shoot 3 pointers. Sam Mitchell needs to start using a cattle prod on him during practice. Everytime the ball is in his hands, and he takes a dribble and a step forward, he should get tasered. Period.
2. The rebounding disparity: First, I must say that watching quarters 2-4, it didn't seem like the Raptors were being out rebounded. However, after the game the Raps were a steller -14 (or something like that). What the hell? That big of a rebounding differential will get you killed most nights. Now, I have been told that the first quarter was an absolute shit show, but from what I saw, I think that number might be misleading.
3. Total offensive stagnation without Jose: I know, it was Roko's first NBA game, and I should expect too much out of him. I actually thought he did okay, he minimized his turnovers, and he wasn't playing total OLE defense. However, the Sixers felt confident enough to put a full court press on him, which just shows you that they don't think he can play. While he did break the press efficiently (thank God), in the Raps half court sets, there was a lot of aimless dribbling by Roko Ono. Keep your head, son! Hopefully, he keeps improving.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
What I was going to write after the first period: The Leafs have lost 2 in a row and looked particularly out-of-sync in last night's game against the Devils. Despite a recent stint in the press box designed the drill the message home, Jason Blake continues to frustrate the hell out of Leaf fans with consistently poor efforts and a bunch of weak shots on net. And, as a result, the lackluster effort led to a particularly quiet first period in the game time chat room over at PPP.
What I was going to write after the second period: Wilson must have screamed at these guys during the intermission because the Leafs rebounded from a bad game against the Lightening and a shaky first period by coming out strong in the second with 3 unanswered goals and a couple of fights (is it wrong for me to love the fact that Hollweg got his ass kicked?!?)... only to see that lead evaporate.
What I was going to write halfway through the third period: This is what we expected. The kind of performance we got in the past two nights is exactly what we expected from this club before the season started: a young team trying to find its way and learning to fight Ronnie Wilon's War. Being the devout fan(atic)s that we are, we got excited after those two wins, and were feeling a bit glum after the loss to the Bolts. Rest easy though Leafs faithful, the sky isn't falling on this team. They are going win some and they are going to lose some - but the key is to see that they are developing, skating hard and learning to play this game the right way. We saw that after the first period.
What I'm writing after the game: Shocked. Not only did the Leafs come back to tie it in the third, but they also beat Marty Brodeur in a shootout, with the Borat-Poni-Stajan line leading the way throughout. Stajan finally had a big night, with 2 goals and an assist, and this team actually clicked on the PP. It wasn't always pretty, but these guys played hard (after the first) and gutted out a win tonight. Color me impressed. [UPDATE: forgot to mention the shootout! The decision to stick with Vesa and not use a defensive d-man as a shooter were obviously a good ones, and they paid off. Its about time we won a shootout. Looks like someone's been practicing!]
Our Luke and Savior: We at TPTFUA haven't weighed in on Luke Schenn yet. Even though its a moot point, let me say that I see the merit in sending him down, letting him play against guys his age and letting him captain Team Canada at the Juniors to develop some leadership experience. But, on the other hand, the guy looks like an NHL player. A young and inexperienced one at times, but he looks like he belongs. Simply pointing to his +/- stats and yelling "See! He shouldn't be here!" as some windbags have done, doesn't do it for me. This kid is getting the best kind of experience you can get in any type of profession - on the job training against the world's best. If he were obviously sinking, then of course you'd have to send him down. But he's not. He's not just keeping his head above water though - he actually looks like he belongs. In fact, Wilson had him out there in final 2 minutes of the 3rd with the game on the line and some crucial moments in OT (you can't pin the penalty he took in OT on him - it was a broken stick and could have happened to anyone). This is a new day in professional sports and simply because you're 18 doesn't mean you can't compete with the big boys. My vote: keep him around.
Question: Brendan Shannahan doesn't want to wait around for the Blue Shirts anymore. If Mats won't come back to TO (and I believe he won't), does anyone want to add Shanny to the Leafs this year (assuming he would sign)? My gut says NO - give that PT to the young guys and continue to help them develop. But part of me wants to say YES - his veteran leadership and tutelage would go a long way for some of these young guys and he would add some grit to the lineup. We've got plenty of cap space, why not take a 1 year flyer on the guy? Please discuss in the comment section!
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
OK, so maybe it wasn't the Jays that won the World Series, but lets take what we can get eh. Tonight has been stellar for Toronto sports. Big wins from the Leafs and Raps on the road and Mr Shitface himself, Eric Hinske, was immortalized as the final out in the World Series.
And a fuckin awesome guy by the name of Matt Stairs got to celebrate a championship. Congrats.
The core of the Nets for the foreseeable future will be Chairman Yi, Devin Harris and Brook Lopez. Wowee wow wow. Brutal! Is Rod Thorn fucked in the head?
Well, I suppose not. Apparently the super top secret blueprint (that we all already know) for the team is to dick around for a bit, move the club to Brooklyn, then sign Lebron. Time will tell.
4. New York Knicks - Where to begin? The team Isaiah built is a wreck and his personal life is in even worse shape after he attempted suicide then tried to pin on his daughter.
Out on the hardwood their monster frontcourt duo of Eddie Curry and Zach Randolph will be paid about 25 million combined this season – not to mention the fact that they are both on the hook for next season too. Hypothetically, would you rather pay those two players such exorbitant salaries or take on a frontcourt duo of Oliver Miller and Sharone Wright in the present day and pay them the minimum? I'll take Sharone and the Big O anyday!
That goes without mentioning the further dead weight on the roster that includes Jerome James, Malik Rose, Jared Jeffries and of course Starbury. Together those four count for more than 40 million and contribute virtually nothing to the team.
The bright spots will include Nate Robinson, David Lee, Jamal Crawford, Danilo Galinari and I personally like Wilson Chandler. I don’t see Mike D’Antoni being able to squeeze much more that 27 wins out of that atrocious core though. This season is all about unloading as many bad contracts as possible and getting a good draft pick.
3. Toronto Raptors – What can we say that hasn’t already been said? Here is the recap of the five most salient Raptor worries:
-Jermaine O’Neal’s health is a mammoth question mark
-Will Bargnani ever become useful?
-Can my Roko Ono effectively back up Calderon?
-Is Kapono actually going to start shooting threes and stop driving?
-Will the perimeter defense ever be fixed?
To these concerns I would predict: O’Neal plays 70 games, Bargnani will never justify a first overall pick, Roko struggles mightily as a rookie, the small forward situation will need to be solved by a trade and the perimeter defense will be better as a result of the strong new interior defense.
Lets temper our expectations a bit and give them a close third in the division with a win total in the high 40s. The possibility of moving up certainly exists if major injuries hit Pierce or Brand. Also, lets keep in mind, ultimately the most important thing is getting a favorable first round playoff matchup - not who wins this division. (Disclaimer - if the Raps win tonight, Championship!)
2. Philadelphia 76ers – This team went from being a bottom feeder to a fairly serious contender almost overnight. The scary thing is that this team is looking even stronger. There is no denying the fact that the starting five of Miller, Iguodala, Young, Brand and Dalembert looks imposing on paper. It has an intriguing construction with a good mix of youth, experience, rebounding, athleticism, shot blocking, and clearly defined roles. The only slight weakness appears to be in the 3 point shooting department.
Then when you look at the bench, they continue to impress. Lou Williams, Willie Green, Reggie Evans, Mareese Speights and even Theo Ratliff will all likely contribute good minutes.
The one massive question mark for the 76ers surrounds the rehabilitation of Elton Brand’s achilles tendon. He looked iffy in the preseason. If he is not healthy, this team definitely drops a notch behind the Raptors. However, assuming Brand is good to go, I’d say this team that finished one game behind the Raptors last season has the horses to finish just ahead of them this year. Will they be able to run with the Celtics though? Something tells me Rocky ain’t ready to go toe-to-toe with Apollo just yet.
1. Boston Celtics – You gotta give it to them, the big three of Garnett, Pierce and Allen made a remarkable run last year for the title in beating some tough teams in the Cavs, Pistons and Lakers. (Not to mention those tricky Hawks who stretched them to 7 games) They made teammates with serious deficiencies in their games like Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo play at levels that even their mothers couldn’t have expected. Most amazingly, they stayed healthy. For players who had been banged up in the past like Paul Pierce and especially Ray Allen, this was the key that allowed them to win it all.
They have lost a key playoff contributor in James Posey. That subtraction likely won’t play much of a factor in the regular season, but it may do come April and May when they need a clutch performer. They added a couple of rookies with undeniable talent, but suspect characters/work ethics in JR Giddens and Bill Walker which made me jealous that the Raps still have no young talent at those positions. Then again, those guys won’t likely see the court much in the upcoming season. Overall, no major additions or subtractions.
Two major problems do lie in their future though. The first is that they are the World Champs and will have a huge target on their backs – especially after Paul Pierce has been chatting so much crap. The second important question for the Celtics again this year will be whether they can continue to outrun Father Time. My instincts tell me that Garnett and Pierce will be fine, but I am highly suspicious of another standout season from Ray Allen. He is getting close to that "Dell Curry as a Raptor" stage of his career where he will only be on the court because he has a sweet jumper. Forget defense and driving ability. Based on these two problems, combined with the lack of depth behind their big three, I foresee a fall in the win column. Look for them to slightly edge out the 76ers and Raps for the division title with a win total in the low 50s.
1. Jermaine O'Neal will average 15 points, 9 boards, and 1.5 blocks a game. I believe that this is an extremely realistic prediction for JO. He averaged 13-7 last year for a team that had Frank Lucas at the point.
2. Chris Bosh will make First Team All-NBA this year. Every sports writer out there seems to cream their pants when they talk about D Wade's summer in Beijing. Do you know who was the best big man for the US? Chris Bosh. Everyone acknowledges this, but no one assumes that CB4 will make the leap back in the NBA. Hater talk. Bosh is going to rip the mantle of "Best Skinny PF" from KG's cold dead hands this year. The future is here.
3. Jose Calderon is going to be an All-Star and top 5 PG in the NBA. Insane? I don't think so. When TJ was out last season, Jose averaged 13 points - 11 assists (0.5 tunovers), and I think he has more scoring upside this year. So my prediction for Jose this year - 18 pts and 12 assists. There is no depth behind him, and with the added minutes, he's gonna shine.
4. Joey Graham and Jamario Moon will be totally frustrating to watch, and will make you want to throw things at your TV. There is no getting away from this. The Raps will live and die with these 2 manning the 3 spot. I have no idea what they are going to bring to the table offensively, but one or both of these guys better be ready to play some serious lock down, he's so in his grill I thought he was the dentist, defense. Anything else is unacceptable.
5. At the trade deadline, Colangelo Jedi mind-tricks Pat Riley into trading Matrix to the Raps for Il Busto, Hump, Graham, and a hug. When this happens, this team is going to the Finals. Book the tickets. Oh, you can also file this prediction in the Complete Fantasy file. How unlikely is this? About as unlikely as Smokey hooking up with fellow Van City resident Laura Vandervoot (j/k Smokey, just needed to get a pic of a hot chick in this post).
Its time to get in the bunker for 2008-2009. Season starts at 7 tonight. I am pumped.
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
4. Golden State - Monta Ellis broke the cardinal rule of riding a Vespa and in the process screwed over G-State. What's the cardinal rule, you ask? Well, riding a Vespa is like nailing a fat chick - fun to do, but you can't let your friends see you. Unfortunately for the Warriors, Monta got busted and that secret love of his is going to cost him a couple of months on the sideline. This team has a few decent pieces in guys like Harrington, Maggette and Jackson, and will try to play some uptempo Nelly Ball, but they just aren't on par with the class of the Western Conference.
3. Clippers - Not sure if you saw this on your sports ticker over the summer, but Elton Brand stabbed the Clippers in the back and jumped ship to the 76ers. Personally, I have no idea why Elton would do it. Have you ever been to Philly in the winter? Have you ever been to LA in the winter? MLB just had to postpone the World Series clinching game in Philly for 2 days because of inclement weather involving a mix of snow and rain, while I'm sitting here looking out my office window at 73 degree weather and constant sunshine in SoCal. Elton is an idiot. With that said, the Clips have some talent in Baron Davis, that handsome fella Chris Kaman and an angry Marcus Camby, and I would have put this team second in the division if Brand hung around, but he didn't so they're getting the #3 spot. Oh, and here's my obligatory reference to Baron Davis making movies in Hollywood.
2. Phoenix - They should rename this team the PHX Sunsets, because this is a group that is on the brink of going down. Nash, Shaq and the walking infirmary known as Grant Hill are on their last legs as players, and seem to be more interested in owning the Suns these days
1. Lakers - Pretty simple pick. Much to my own personal chagrin, the Lakers are the consensus favorite not only in the division, but also in the Western Conference after the robbery of Pau Gasol and a trip to the NBA Finals last year. With Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Lamar and co. on the roster, its hard to justify picking against this team, ASSuming of course Kobe doesn't rape anyone this season. Actually, as much I want this team to lose, there are some real questions, such as Kobe's stamina and injured pinkie finger after a trip to the Finals and playing in the Olympics all summer, Bynum's ability to sustain the high level of play he showed in all 6 of those famous games he played last year, as well as Phil's ability to appease Lamar in a contract year (hint: he's going to sulk if he's coming off the bench all season and not playing a key role). Unfortuantely for me, Phil will probably give these idiots a text from some ancient French philosopher and this team will go on to win the title. FML.
Monday, October 27, 2008
-On Friday the Jays nabbed former pitcher Adam Loewen from the Orioles. He has been through some major ordeals with his pitching elbow over the past couple seasons and is now attempting to reinvent himself as a positional player a la Rick Ankiel. Being a native Canadian, he saw no better place than Toronto to try to realize this bold project. It is costing the Jays next to nothing to make this move, so why the hell not? The best part is that the Orioles wanted to keep him, thought it would be easy to do so, then dropped the soap and took it in the ass.
-AJ Burnett rumours are all over the place and they all contradict each other. First he doesn't want to play for the Yankees, then he does, then Ricciardi is making progress to keep him in Toronto, then he is not, then the freakin Orioles are in the bidding to keep Mrs Burnett happy. Who knows where the truth lies, but ultimately, more than 16 million a year for that guy seems absolutely ludicrous.
-If he does leave, JP assures the Jays faithful that the cupboard is not bare. The Jays have a stable of lefties who may be able to contribute in the majors in the near future. Remember the names of Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero and Brad Mills when you are having Jimmy Key flashbacks.
-Also, when Burnett's cap space gets freed up then the possibility of Manny Ramirez is not a complete pipe dream. (nor is it likely, so don't plan on being invited to his barbeque just yet) Ricciardi tried to hide his boner in this interview.
Now, the Bullpen
While I heaped a great deal of praise on the starting pitchers last week, the bullpen deserves an equal amount of positive reinforcement. Those getting the call from the pen in 2008 were every bit as good as their starting counterparts. So what can we look forward to in 2009 from this group? Lets take a closer look at the individuals…
Jeremy Accardo – Lets assume the innings he pitched in 2008 don’t count since he clearly was not 100% healthy. Back in 2007 Accardo was outstanding when forced to step into the closer’s role when BJ went down. If he can pitch at a similar level next season he will definitely be a contender amongst the ranks for the role of set-up man - or even the closer again. More on that possibility further down…
Scott Downs – Also known as the Roy Halladay of the bullpen. He had a miniscule ERA of only 1.78 in 2008. To think that it was actually lower for the majority of the year before he tried to pitch through a late season injury makes it even more impressive. The guy was money in the bank and gave the Jays countless stress-free innings of set-up work before bringing in BJ Ryan to get the fans pulses racing. There is one major question surrounding Downs and that is whether he was so good that he will be promoted to start? Could he hold up as a starter? That’s a toughie. The last thing I want to read next year is about another major pitching injury. However, with the uncertainty surrounding the starting rotation right now, there is a good possibility that he may be asked to make the jump.
Brian Wolfe – While the sample size of work upon which there was to judge him was small, he did prove to be more than adequate in the innings he pitched. Hopefully he can build off of this solid campaign and earn more work with the big club next year.
Brandon League – He has always had the “stuff” to be a ball player at the highest level. Sadly, he had fallen into the category of guys who couldn’t seem to get his act together. Was he lacking confidence, or did he simply have no control of his pitches? Well I think he answered all the doubts with an outstanding second half of the season. Now the question becomes, “was it a flash in the pan?” I’m going to sit on the fence for the moment, while quietly hoping that the guy in the glasses becomes our Ricky “the Wild Thing” Vaughn.
Jesse Carlson – Yet another Jay in the bullpen to enjoy a super 2008. If it weren’t for the play of Downs, maybe Carlson would be the pitcher to rave about. At the very least, he might have had some horseshoes strategically located in his caboose because he somehow racked up seven victories on the year. That ranked him fifth on the entire pitching staff.
Shawn Camp and Jason Fraser – These two get reviewed together because they share the common trait of being god awful. I would prefer to never see either one of them pitch for Toronto again.
Brian Tallet – He has been decent for the Jays for a few years now and reminds me a bit of Dan Plesac. In other words, a giant, left handed freak. While he undeniably gets the job done more often than not, I wouldn’t want to venture to this well too often, or for very long. Luckily though, he is not one of the primary options. In fact, to say he was the Jays fourth best leftie in the bullpen shows the luxury that Cito was working with in 2008.
BJ Ryan – On the positive side, 32 saves is nothing to sneeze at. It was also good to see him bounce back from a year off and pitch as the Germans say, “quite ok.” However, it was abundantly clear that he has not regained the velocity he had before Tommy John surgery. He sorta gave me flashbacks of Randy Myers during his tenure in Toronto. In other words, a chunky left handed closer with mediocre stuff. He used every shred of veteran savvy and junk balling techniques to rack up those saves and was far from the lock you would like to have trotting out in the ninth. Will he regain the zip he needs to dominate again next season? I hope so, because that may be the only thing that can erase my painful memory of watching Giambi golf a walk-off shot into the upper deck in right field at Yankee Stadium. That one might still be in the air as we speak.
Rumours have been swirling in recent weeks that Ryan may be a trade chip that Ricciardi tries to cash in this offseason. The Blue Jays are currently blessed with an uncanny amount of depth in the bullpen and it is not difficult to imagine the trio of Downs, League and maybe Accardo taking the reins from Ryan. Now the interesting question becomes - what is BJ worth? He does still have 2 years and 20 million left on his contract. Would he be a hot commodity?
Will continue to follow these developments and review the rest of the Jays team in the upcoming weeks. Oh and on a final note, Mike Timlin is going to retire. Which begs the question - how did he ever last 17 years? But alas, it was Timlin who earned the save to clinch 1992 World Series - not Henkenstein or Duane Ward - thus he is above any crticism. (even if he did spend too many years as a member of the Red Sox)
After watching the Raptors in the pre-season, I am very confident about their upcoming defensive prowess. However, I am also very concerned about their disjointed play on offense. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Sam Mitchell needs to make a couple of adjustments, that in my opinion would let the Raptors offense operate at full throttle. Basically, I think the Raptors should mimic the New Orleans Hornets' offensive scheme. Now before all of you laugh at me and try to dunk my head in the toilet and flush, let me explain.
First my entire theory is based on the premise that Jose, on offense, is able to put the same kind of pressure on a defense that Chris Paul does, but not to the same extent because Paul has a flashier handle and is much quicker into the hole. Jose, like CP3, is able to pull up, drive to the hoop, or throw up very pretty lobs to the screener off every pick and roll that he runs. This triple threat that the PG presents is the essence of the Hornets' "playground" philosophy. I know the what you guys are thinking, thanks Doug Smith, but the entire offense already runs through Jose, got something a little more insightful?
Well actually yes, and this is the crux of my entire offensive design. The Raptors need to start running a lot of back screen action along the baseline for Joey or Jamario to compliment that Jose-Bosh pick and roll. If they can get that kind of movement in their offense it will make them an elite scoring team. Putting JO on the low block as the back screener forces the defense to make a decision every time Jamario or Joey makes a cut. The opposition has to decide whether they should switch or try to fight through the screen. At this point 2 very positive things can happen:
1) On the Switch, JO is guarded by a much smaller player that the Raps can exploit (while having Joey or Moon crash the offensive glass, if the big man decides to help).
2) The defense decides to fight through the screen, and Joey or Moon has an open alley oop, if their man gets caught up, OR they are left unmolested underneath the hoop where they can dunk with abandon.
Of course, defenses will adjust, but with AP hanging around the 3 point line, there is only so much the other team can do without giving up a WIDE OPEN trey. Anyway, I like Sam's focus on defense this year, but he needs to spend some time coming up with a new offensive game plan. The current plan of AP/Joey/Moon hanging out in the corner while Jose and Bosh pick and roll at the top of the key is so played out that Mike Brown is laughing at us.
Let's just hope that Sam can make the Raptors offense sexy like Megan Fox this year. I have a feeling that if he can, there are big things in store for this Raptors team, but if it isn't, he better start polishing up his careerbuilder.com profile.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Doug Smith from the Star wrote this article today stating the Raptors cannot have a normal scrimmage in practice due to the fact that they are down to only nine healthy players. Implicitly, he is criticizing management for taking the budget route and only signing the NBA minimum of 13 players to the roster, rather than the normal 15 players.
More importantly, is Smith right to be concerned?
Well, considering the fact that the four guys injured at this moment are:
-Jamario Moon (day-to-day, sore achilles)
-Will Soloman (day-to-day, sore hamstring)
-Hassan Adams (day-to-day, sore shoulder)
-Nathan Jawai (mysterious heart/respiratory problem)
I'd say it's time for Doug Smith to simmer the hell down.
Missing those four characters for a Sunday afternoon practice is no need to push the panic button, let alone write an article about the team's early season injury concerns.
I realize that he gets paid to write stuff, but this story ranks incredibly high on the "who-gives-a-rats-ass?" scale. Real concerns, like the fact that there is no proven backup point guard, there is a lack of talent on the wings, or that the second unit has been abysmal in the preseason, all seem slightly more pressing. I suppose he'd already beaten the dead horse with those ones though.
If the team goes an extended period of time with only 9 players then there will be cause for concern. As of right now, this is a non-issue.
Friday, October 24, 2008
5. Charlotte Bobcats – The worst of the worst. I watched this team play a preseason game last night in which they only scored 30 first half points. No wonder they went 0-8! The only things that kept me mildly interested were 1) J-Rich’s dazzling array of circus layups that didn’t even hit the rim, and 2) figuring out who the new uber-feminine Euro ponytail guy was on the Bobcats. Did Walter Hermann, the basketball Fabio, come back for a second stint? So I nearly crapped my pants when I found out it was the immortal stiff, Adam Morrison, whose new pedophile look should do wonders for keeping little children and the next generation of fans away from watching this awful team. I mean, did Jordan and Co. just assume they were drafting a team of collegiate all-stars for another March Madness run? Because a core of Felton, Okafor, May, Augustin, and Morrison just ain’t gonna cut it in this putrid division, let alone the NBA. This is the most forgettable franchise around. Can we fold them or at least move them to Seattle or Vancouver already?
4. Washington Wizards – Sure, the Wiz had some bad injury luck the last couple of years just before the playoffs, but are they that disillusioned to think their core would have competed anyways? Because not much has changed except that Arenas is out indefinitely and Jamison is older, banged up, and recently paid. Sure the Caron Butler trio is a nice player, but I’ve always felt this troika has been way overrated and overpaid. Plus Deshawn Stevenson is still a bum, Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood are not developing after 8 years of mediocrity, and if Andray Blatche is your future, you might as well start counting your ping pong balls now. And have fun with Agent Zero’s $111m broken knees over the next 6 years. Does Hibachi also mean deadweight in Japanese?
3. Atlanta Hawks – “Big beats, hit streets, see gangsters roamin. And parties don’t stop till eight in the mo’nin.” Well, I hope the Waffle House is good to this year’s Hawks because last year’s playoff parties may be a distant memory in mere months. Seriously, leave it up to their idiot management to immediately derail any momentum from the Celtics series by stalling forever on Josh Smith’s contract and low-balling Josh Childress to the point he’d rather go to Greece for his paycheck and a bucket of gyros. C’mon, really? Shouldn’t Atlanta be the last franchise trying to call a player’s bluff? The Atlanta Spirit Group makes MLSE look like Google to their Worldcom.
While Childress’ departure hurts a lot, it does open the door for Marvin Williams to prove himself. Does he succeed? I’m undecided but I don’t think he provides enough to unequivocally say this team is significantly better from last year’s 38 win team that snuck into the playoffs in a pathetic conference that should be improved this year. I think for that to happen, Bibby will have to summon his inner Andre Miller in a contract year, Joe Johnson will have to play every game like he did Game 4, Josh Smith will have to restrain himself from assassinating Coach Woodson, and they all have to stay healthy to cover up a bench that has less depth than Michael Vick's bank account. I’m pulling for them but sounds like a lot, eh? At least they’ll take solace in Al Horford’s development and finding new ways to screw the Raptors every time they visit. Plus, you don't mess with the Zaza.
2. Miami Heat – I don’t get why everyone automatically assumes this team is going to internally combust and become the felons of South Beach. I see a lot of talent at the 2-4 positions that’s not unlike an upgraded version of the Hawks. D-Wade was killer at the Olympics and I’m seriously hoping his body holds up the whole year. The NBA needs the 2006 Flash back and without that bumbling moron Shaq around, I can actually root for him now. Beasley is going to be awesome and average an 18/7 while Marion will still be one of the best small forward rebounders and defenders, even if his offensive flaws are exposed without Nash to feed him alley-oops all game. The Heat are still fast and will run and gun, which is to his and the rest of the team’s strength. And if Chalmers can put down the bong and become a decent PG, I totally feel this Heat team can make the playoffs. Love the gamble on Shaun Livingston too. The big question is if at the trade deadline, the Heat are hovering around .500 or lower, will they move Matrix? If so and they get shit all in return, then I’m not guaranteeing anything. Also true if Stephon Marbury shows up to South Beach in a truck.
1. Orlando Magic – They’re here by default even though I’m not a huge fan and think they should be much better than they are. Honestly, why doesn’t the whole team just share turns lobbing 12 foot passes in the vicinity of the rim for Howard to throw down? Oh that’s right, they still have that afterbirth Jameer Nelson running the point and thinking he’s a first team all-star. Hedo Turkoglu was a revelation last year, especially in crunch time when he seemed to clear out defenders and create space with his huge schnozz. The Magic better hope it wasn’t an aberration and that Rashard Lewis becomes more multi-dimensional, or else their fate is looking similar to last year – just good enough to make the 2nd round but clearly inferior to the conference’s elite. I’ll also be interested to see what Pietrus does with a more featured role and inspiration from his new coach (sorry, redundant joke, but always humourous).
Thursday, October 23, 2008
4) Minnesota Timberwolves
Last season: 22-60
Wow, this team sucks. This team has been working on rebuilding since Garnett moved on, and it hasn't been easy so far. Jefferson banged up his knee in September, so he might not even be starting the season with the Wolves. There are high hopes for rookie Kevin Love, and the pickup of Mike Miller should help distribute the 'scoring' load a bit more, but this team is still destined for the basement. Like I said, this team sucks.
On another note, nba.com shows Mark Madsen as having no team for this season. The Wolves need to bring this guy back. He's always reminded my of "Lenny" from Of Mice and Men, but on Red Bull. Always wanted to do right, but just a bit simple.
3) Denver Nuggets
Last season: 50-32
I have wanted to get behind the Nuggets for a few years now, but I honestly have no idea what the hell this team is up to. For anyone who caught a Nuggets game last season (especially in the playoffs) you will remember that their defense resembled a high school team. It gets better, they got rid of their best defender (Camby) to save a little bank. I understand that they have a great duo in 'Melo and A.I, but it's not going to be nearly enough in the West. I love the way Iverson plays the game, but he's getting older and I think that this is the season where it really starts to show. This guy has more miles on him that most players with the same amount of games because he's a warrior. With 'Melo flossing some new Gold, he might be inspired to take this team to the next level, but I just don't see it happening. However, they DO get the award for the most team tattoos, so that has got to count for something (not much).
On the bright side, The Birdman (Chris Anderson) is back in the NBA after a 2 year drug induced hiatus. This guy fucking rules. First of all, I've got to support any white dude that has the sack to enter the Dunk Contest at all, let alone twice. Then, to TOTALLY shit the bed during the actual competition to the point where other players were laughing made it that much better. I'm with you Birdman, but let's see if you can fly as high without your "special pipe".
2) Portland Trailblazers
Last season: 41-41
This team surprised everyone last year by going on that long winning streak. Most of all, I think that the Blazers surprised themselves. With Oden going down before the season started, things were looking pretty bleak for this team. They stepped it up a notch with Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge leading the charge. Brandon Roy had a great season and really came into his own. No one wants to see a player get injured, but Oden being injured last season gave Roy the room to grow, and it will help the team in the long run.
Oh ya, and Greg Oden is going to play this season. I've been waiting patiently to see this guy in action, so personally I can't wait. I think that he will live up to the hype, and it will be great to have another young big man in the league with so much potential. For a guy who was born in 1988, he looks kinda old but I like his hat.
1) Utah Jazz
Last season: 54-28
The Jazz will be winning this division again unless the Blazers decide to go balls out and take over the NBA this season instead of one of the next few. Deron Williams performed well again last season, and continues to look more and more confident running the team. Jerry Sloan has been a great coach for the Jazz, and I don't expect that to change this season. The Jazz have a decent 3 ball game with Korver and Okur, and the pickup of Brevin Knight will provide some much needed rest for Williams at PG. Boozer continued to be dominant in the post again last season, and after tasting a little Gold of his own expect him to work even harder. I'm not really sure what to say about Kirilenko. I love the nickname AK-47, but he's been all over the place in recent seasons. AK-47 needs to start playing a little dirtier (see Bruce Bowen), get more aggressive on D, and turn himself into a stopper. If he can grab a few board as well and score a couple points, that would be a bonus.
You have probably noticed by now that there are only 4 teams in this divisional review. That's because in my NBA, the Seattle Supersonics still exist. I think that Shawn Kemp should step up and start a new Sonics franchise using his own children.
It's funny to see how things work out sometimes. Aubrey McClendonn is the guy behind moving the Sonics out of Seattle, and it seems that the people of Seattle will be able to sleep a little better at night now that karma seems to have slapped him around a bit after losing $1.86 billion in recent months. Eat a dick buddy.
This review wouldn't be complete without some words on Kevin Durant, but I feel that he requires his own post on account of a shitty owner and shitty teammates.
Next Column: "A Letter to Kevin Durant"...
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
I was lucky enough to be present for that moment. I was 13 years old and sitting with my parents [full disclosure: in a corporate box] at the SkyDome. The box was about half way down the third base line, and to this day I can close my eyes and literally watch as Joe's homerun ball sailed over the wall - seemingly in slow motion - and landed in the bullpen as Joe started leaping around the bases.
Its my greatest sports memory, and along with the '92 Jays, was the only time a major professional team in Toronto has won a championship in my lifetime. I was too young at that time to get involved in the parties that erupted around the city, but I sure got a taste of the honking horns, cheering fans and general revellry as we made the trek from the SkyDome to our hotel. The only thing that can come close for me in my adult life was sitting in a Toronto sports bar watching the Canadian men's hockey team win gold at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Following the win, me and 5 friends (some of whom are contributors to this site) went to Shopper's Drug Mart, bought red lipstick, took our shirts off in the dead of winter, wrote the letters C-A-N-A-D-A on our respective chests and proceeded to run up and down Yonge St. high-fiving total strangers and leading an impromptu rendition of "Oh Canada" from a construction site on the corner of Yonge and Dundas.
"Planning the parade" might be an overly used quip in our city's sports lexicon - but as we look back on this anniversary I sincerely hope we all get to experience that kind of collective joy again soon. I'm sick of the Santa Clause Parade.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
(Also, I am writing this preview while watching our plucky Raps close out the pre season in Edmonton. Matt Devlin just pointed out that the maintenance crew had to put masking tape down on the court to show the NBA Key and 3 Point Line. What the hell? Double lines? What is this, high school? Fucking Ghetto. Back to the preview.)
1. Detroit: Once again the old men from "Deee-Troit" will probably win the division. They will take care of business and pound the teams they are suppose to. They will play some close games against the best in the league, and they might even win a few. Most of the ESPN commentators will spend the year convincing us that the switch from Flip Saunders was the shake up that these guys needed. But guess what? They will lose in the 2nd round of the playoffs. They will mostly likely lose 4-2 to one of (Cle, Tor, Orl, Bos, Phi. I mean is there any prediction that is easier to make? Why people keep calling Detroit a contender is beyond me. Regular Season Overachievers that lack the heart to close it out in the playoffs? Sure, but title threats they are not. In fact, they should probably talk to the Shock to get a few tips on how to get out of the 2nd round.
2. Cleveland: Ah, Danny Ferry, you get a gold star for trying to convince LeBron to stay in a city that counts Drew Carey as one of its beloved sons. I don't know how I feel about the Mo Williams trade. On paper, it makes sense. LeBron needs a second scorer to take the pressure off him, and Mike Brown is just incompetent enough of an offensive tactician, to let Mo and LeBron take turns running iso plays while everyone stands around and watches. At the same time same Cleveland is a total grave-yard where marginal 2nd/3rd options to go to and die. I suppose Mo and LeBron will score enough to allow Cleveland to be very competitive. However, their upside is limited because Ben Wallace and Big Z will continue to fossilize before our eyes on defense. One cavat, I will take back all of this negativity if LeBron has developed a reliable mid range jumper than he can hit 50% of the time. If he has done that, all bets are off, I could be the second option in Cleveland, and LeBron is still gonna win the title.
3. Indiana: My sleeper Eastern Conference Playoff Pick. With the addition of TJ Ford, I think the Pacers have enough pieces to be competitive. An interesting point, TJ has never missed the playoffs in his NBA career. Anyway, Jim O'Brien likes to push the tempo and have his teams run with abandon on offense, which plays perfectly into TJ's strengths. TJ, Dunlevy Jr, Granger, Murphy/Foster/Rasho, Rush Brother 3, will probably jack up enough shots to average 100+ points a game. Indy is going to be super fun to watch, lose a ton of games 110-109, and they will sneak into the 8th seed. Indy is the new PHX/Denver/G-State East (well Mid-West, but Eastern Conference at least). This all goes out the window if TJ starts rollin' with Jamaal Tinsley, and TJ discovers his inner thug.
4. Chicago: Derrick Rose welcome to the LOTTERY! Seriously, I think Chicago is probably going to play better than they did last year. Deng got paid this summer, so I am predicting a big bounce back year for him. If Kirk Hienrich shoots as bad as last season, someone needs to put his picture on a milk carton. Ben Gordon is gonna be...well I don't know what he is going to be, I mean, I have never lost $50 million dollars before, so I don't know how you comeback from that. I find the Bulls to be a fascinating team. On talent alone, this team should be one of the best up and coming teams in the league, yet, they seem to be a pack of unmotivated underachievers, perhaps Tyrus Thomas really is that much of a cancer. Anyway, I wouldn't be shocked if the Bulls ended starting the season on a MAJOR losing streak since their coach is the incomparable Vinny Del Negro (who they hired because they were too cheap to buy Mike D'Antoni). My secret wish for the Bulls? That they do go into the tank for the first 20 games of the season, so Paxson makes a PANIC trade with the Raptors to get JO because his team desperately needs an inside presence, and he overpays by moving Deng and Noah to us.
5. Milwaukee: What can I say about this team? Probably nothing. They moved Chairman Yi for Richard Jefferson and promptly drafted his white clone in Joe Alexander. Ironcially, TJ Ford is EXACTLY the PG that this team needs right now, but he got traded for Charlie V a few seasons ago. Bogut, Charlie V, Redd, Jefferson, Ridinour seems decent enough, but we all know that it won't be, and the Bucks are destined for yet another lottery finish. However, and I can't believe I am about to say this, but the Bucks have a ton of players that I would love to see in a Raptors uniform (c'mon Colangelo, there are many many East GMs waiting to be fleeced!)
On a completely random NBA note. SOMEONE NEEDS TO SIGN DARIUS MILES. If Miles plays in 10 games this year, the Blazers lose $10 million in cap space. Someone better sign him, I don't even care if he plays a total of 10 minutes for the season. The Blazers must be stopped!!!!!
"Of all human powers operating on the affairs of mankind, none is greater than that of competition."
-Henry ClayLots of talk yesterday about this article from Dave Shoalts in the Globe and Mail about an expansion NHL team in Toronto. [Update: interesting to see the Toronto Star trying to grab some of the publicity away from Shoalts by immediately putting out its own report that pours cold water all over what The Globe had to say.]
For those who missed it, Shoaltsy throws around a lot of interesting ideas. The basic premise is that "NHL governors are talking informally about placing a second hockey team in Toronto alongside the Maple Leafs." It mentions that the franchise could go to RIM founder Jim Balsillie, and the NHL could charge him a franchise fee of $700M (spitting up my drink as I laugh at that last part). The article also suggests that the idea of a team in Hamilton is DOA for two simple reasons: 1) that it would kill the Buffalo Sabres since Canadians wouldn't have to line up to cross the border for a hockey game; and 2) that a team from Hamilton wouldn't be a draw in U.S. arenas.
We all know this city could support another hockey team, and we can debate the likelihood of whether this really will happen all we want, but as I write this from my mother's basement the reality is that I have no inside info and can't bring you anything other than my uninformed opinion on that issue. BUT, what I can tell you however, is that if this did ultimately happen, the biggest winners in the whole thing would be us: the Toronto Maple Leafs fans. Talk about a novel idea.
A second team in Toronto, even if they were the worst in the league, would create instant competition with the Leafs. Plenty of long-suffering fans tired of their current hockey overlords would immediately jump ship, if for no other reason than to be contrarian (I'm guessing a few of the contributors to this blog would be among them). For too long the Leafs have had hockey fans by the balls. A new club (hopefully owned by an aggressive, potentially Cuban-like individual such as Balsillie) would give fans the ability to choose which team to root for, which team to go and see, which team's garb to buy and wear around town - and ultimately would give incredible leverage to the average fan. [NOTE: Take a moment to vote in the poll at the top of the sidebar to the right --->]
Going further, as the new club improved over time, advertisers and corporate sponsors would be drawn to the better product, whichever club that might be. The sell outs and huge corporate profits would no longer be simply guaranteed to MLSE. As competition began to increase, and profits began to disappear, it would force the suits to innovate. How, you ask? Well, for starters, they could hire a competent and capable GM (like Yzerman! Burke! Rutherford! the list goes on), could invest in scouting, and could put the club on a fast paced rebuilding project, similar to what was done in Philly. Ultimately, through increased competition, the fans would be rewarded with a better product on the ice. Imagine the embarrassment if that expansion club won the Cup before the Leafs? I think that kind of threat posed by a second team in Toronto would be enough incentive for MLSE to fix what we all know to be wrong, and to do so on an expedited basis.
Of course, that kind of competition is exactly why MLSE will fight tooth and nail to make sure this never happens, despite Peddie's assertion that MLSE wouldn't "automatically reject the idea...."
Game 6: Ducks 3, Leafs 2 (shootout)
As for last night's shootout loss at the hands of Gordon Bombay and the Ducks, what do you want me to say?
Our guys were in this thing right to the bitter end. In fact, it was more than that, they actually had a shot to win this thing by completely shutting down the Ducks in the 3rd and allowing NO shots on goal. None in 20+ minutes of play! Defense is supposed to be the hallmark of the team this year, and they showed up last night - lead by almost 30 minutes of ice time from Kaberle. Throw in Borat's 2 goals, including 1 with less than a minute left in the third to tie it, and Leafs faithful had reason to be hopeful. However, once again the shootout - the Achilles heal of the club last year - is proving to be more like a malignant tumor, as they've now already lost 3 of their 6 games in shootouts this year.
The worst part? Just when I start thinking the Leafs are going to give themselves a chance in the shootout by NOT sending stiffs like Kubina out there (Kulemin and Kaberle took the shots) - they instead outsmart themselves by yanking Vesa, pulling a stone cold old man Joseph off the bench (thereby interrupting his nap) and sending him out there to face Selanne and Perry. Uhhhhh, Ron? Suffice it to say, that was not your smartest coaching move ever. I know he was "playing the percentages," but let's try to put those percentages in context next time: a 40 year old goalie who's been sitting on the bench for 60+ minutes OR your starting goalie who hadn't given up a goal since the halfway mark of the 1st period. I think its now officially time to end EVERY SINGLE practice from here on out with a shootout. In fact, I think Gordon Bombay and Charlie Conway could show our guys how its done...
The bottom line is that we haven't won since the opener, and you better get used to it. This is a young team that's still learning how to play Wilson's system, let alone learning how to win close games. Losing in this manner is going to be a common theme this season, but on the bright side, just consider it putting us one step closer to winning the John Tavares lottery.
5. Memphis Grizzlies – Clearly a team going absolutely nowhere this season and is simply cutting salary in an attempt to be sold by Michael Heisley. In other words, their 2008 basketball venture will not be a magic kingdom of fun like his Disney business was. Before we completely write them off though, let’s take a closer look at the roster, as they do have some talented young players.
The young core to build around is currently composed of: Rudy Gay, OJ Mayo, Mike Conley, Darrell Arthur and the “other” Gasol guy. There are also some fairly solid pieces surrounding them including Hakim Warrick, Kyle Lowery and Javaris Crittenton.
The dead weight on the roster comes in the form of their three highest paid players, those respectively being Marko Jaric at 6million, Darko Milicic at 6.5million and Antoine Walker at 8.3million. What a horrible group of vets to mentor the youth movement! Clearly, the quicker they can dump any of those three the better.
Ultimately the core has an impressive level of talent and could be a competitor in 2 years with the right moves. They will be a fun team to watch this year and I think it is reasonable to assume they will win about 28 games.
4. Houston Rockets – The next four teams could all quite conceivably win the division and it’s fairly certain that all four will be playoff teams again this year. Houston is my pick to finish fourth in the division for the same old reasons. Those being:
A) Yao Ming will get hurt and miss 20 games.
B) Tracy McGrady will get hurt and miss 25 games.
C) Ron Artest, Steve Francis and Rafer Alston are nuts. At least one of them will have a nuclear meltdown during the year, with the overwhelming favorite being Artest.
In spite of these problems, they will show resilience thanks to the steadying influences of unspectacular role players like Shane Battier, Luis Scola, Brent Barry and Carl Landry. They have a lot of talent and depth but they really seem stuck in a rut. They are not good enough to be in the Western elite and will be treading water until they ultimately make the tough choice to get rid of McGrady next season. I'm going to pencil in a disapointing 47 wins.
3. Dallas Mavericks – Speaking of teams in a rut, here come the 2008/9 Mavs. It is obvious that Nowitzki probably missed his only real shot when they choked against the Heat in the Finals a few years ago. It is also obvious that re-acquiring Jason Kidd from the Nets is not a move that will put them over the top, although a couple of years ago it may have. I wonder how Toni Braxton’s conscience is feeling after she singlehandedly broke up Dallas’ “Three J’s” in the early 90s. Does she feel as uncomfortable as I do watching the current incarnation of Kidd in the twilight of his career struggling to try to regain his former skills in the same uniform he never really should have stopped wearing more than a decade ago? I doubt it. She’s probably too busy hanging out with Whitney Houston and wondering where it all went wrong.
The issues surrounding Josh Howard vis-à-vis his lack of patriotism and smoking habits are overblown in my mind. He will likely be fine as long as he simply learns to keep his mouth shut.
The problems with Dallas continue with the rest of their role players though. Do the names Erik Dampier, Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse or DeSagana Diop provide the Mavs “big three” with the depth or talent necessary to compete in the playoffs? I think not. This team will need to be blown up sooner rather than later, but I still think they can grab about 50 wins though during the year.
2. San Antonio Spurs – They are old. Like really, really old. How evident will the rust become on Duncan Finley, Bowen, etc? How much will Ginobli’s prolonged absence hurt their team? How much will they coast through the regular season, knowing how unimportant the records are once the playoffs start?
Let’s just say that Tim Duncan’s sheer willpower alone will be enough to get them a decent seeding. The Spurs know what they are doing and will try to execute that plan starting in April. In the meantime, at least they have the Red Rocket to keep the regular season amusing. Am I living in the past to think they will be able to grind out 52 wins?
1.New Orleans Hornets – Make no mistake, these are not the same old Hornets, the underachieving legacy of Grandma-ma is over. This was a team just beginning to hit its stride last year. With Chris Paul and David West elevating their games to new levels, the Hornets were a revelation in the Western Conference where they proved they could go toe-to-toe with the big dogs.
They certainly also have a deep pool of talent with the rest of the starting unit including rebounding machine Tyson Chandler, Mr Clutch James Posey and the sharpshooting David Schwimmer. The bench has some solid characters with MoPete, Hilton Armstrong and Julian Wright who can provide solid minutes. It is a young and hungry team that looks to have the pieces in place to finish above the three tough teams from Texas that they are stuck in a division with. Expect a win total in the range of 55.