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According to the NBA schedule, the Toronto Raptors (14-22) and the Charlotte Bobcats were playing for the second time this season on Friday night. But make no mistake - the two teams that took to the court had not seen each other in their current form before last night's 99-78 Raptors' rout.
In Charlotte's early season 98-97 win, Toronto was still relying heavily on a struggling Andrea Bargnani and, therefore, employed an out-of-sync offence. For their part, the Bobcats were riding high on some energetic play from Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo and, at the time, had won five of six.
This time around, the Raps continued their success with a balanced offence (four double digit scorers) and sustained defensive execution which has been a benchmark of the current string of 10 wins in 13 games. On the other side of the court, Charlotte has re-discovered their bottom feeder status and, even more disconcerting, the young core (aside from likable, hard-working rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) doesn't seem to care much.
Raps Go Man-on-Man
Dwane Casey gave his players a nice vote of confidence by planning a defensive scheme based around individual, one-on-one battles. It proved to be the right move, too, as no Bobcat could exploit the head-to-head clash. No 'Cat scored more than 12 points, with the team collectively shooting 37.3%. It marked the second consecutive game in which Toronto has held their opponent below 40% (naturally, both wins). Among Charlotte players who took more than three shots, only Jeffrey Taylor (3-6) made half of them.
Finding the Balance
Alan Anderson didn't even know he led the team in scoring after Friday's game, not that it really would've mattered to him. His indifference towards who is leading the offensive charge echoes throughout the roster and has helped the team dramatically change their offensive identity. No longer is the team being sucked into standing still during Bargnani ISO's - instead, the ball is being spread around (they had 25 assists on Friday, to Charlotte's 14) and every Raptor knows that they need to stay sharp in case they happen to have an open look.
JAK-ing Up Threes
The uppercase'd "JAK" in the title refers to Jose (Calderon), Alan (Anderson) and Kyle (Lowry), who combined to do some damage from three-point range. Calderon shot 3-5 from deep to prop up his 15 points, Anderson went 4-9 compared to just 2-8 from inside the arc and Lowry shot 3-6, giving the Raptors 10 of their 12 treys on the night. Compared to the Raptors' 12-24 (44.4%) shooting from beyond the arc, the Bobcats shot just 3-12 (25%).
The Dreaded "P" Word
Any regular Raptor followed who happened to note the score last night could probably have guessed that the game ended not in enthusiastic cheers but in boos for a home side that had the temerity to - gasp - not reach 100 points and secure the fans their coveted free slice of pizza. It's a fun thing to root for and a great promotion, but can we not let it get in the way of enjoying what was a terrific team effort?
- Without any real pertinent happenings around the ACC to discuss, I figure I might as well share a loosely-connected Michael Jordan story that came up with the Jordan-owned Bobcats in town (no, MJ wasn't in the house, nor do I imagine he has been for many games this year). Apparently Jordan (and other powerful NBA types) would always bring high-end cigars on their trip across the border. How did they get the illegal goods past border patrol? They would smuggle them inside the laundry hamper. As far as I know, no border official has ever asked to check inside a team's laundry hamper.
The homestand comes to a close with Frank Boylan's Milwaukee Bucks coming in on Sunday afternoon (1:00pm, TSN). Milwaukee is currently entrenched in the East's No. 8 spot, 4.5 games up on the Raptors. Also on the line is a successful home stretch, which was defined by Paul Jones and Eric Smith (among others) as a 4-2 mark and which they would achieve with a Sunday win.
Prediction: Bucks 104, Raptors 97 (24-7 this season)