Oklahoma@Miami, Lakers@Clippers: This much we know

April 5, 2012

By Jack Maidment

Four teams with realistic championship aspirations faced off against each other on Wednesday night with the NBA regular season finish line in sight.

Here’s what we learned.

Oklahoma City Thunder @ Miami Heat.

@There are way too many hot, young women going out with old (rich) men in Miami. Man.

@My heart might want something different (I see you Chi-Town) but an OKC-Miami NBA Finals would be out of this world. The standard of play when both teams are on the floor is off the scale.

@Kevin Durant has acquired The Look.

@LeBron James-KD is the best player match up in the league by a long way. They play each other pretty much the entire game and guarantee the other a tough night, both offensively and defensively.

@OKC can be nasty when it needs to be. Between Ibaka, Perkins, Mohammed and Collison, the Thunder have four solid bodies who can dish out a hit and on Wednesday they did. Frequently. The game had more missed layups than any other I have watched this season and every one was down to players waiting for the crunch.

@If I was a Miami fan, I would worry about Chris Bosh. He was milk-carton missing on Wednesday night and wanted no part of a positively scary OKC frontline.

@On that note, OKC’s front line is the best in the league. Between Perkins, Ibaka and Durant the┬áThunder have everything you need to be a great team on both ends of the floor.

@If Shane Battier cannot consistently make the left corner three in the fourth quarter the Heat could be in big trouble.

@Eric Spoelstra must drink a lot of Red Bull prior to each game. He walks around a lot. (Could make a ‘he spends more time on the floor than Mike Miller’ joke here, but I won’t because I am all class.)

@There is no scarier defensive player in the League than Serge Ibaka.

@If OKC-Miami do meet in the Finals Mike Breen is going to need to take a deep breath.

@Mike Breen is the best announcer in the NBA and it’s not even close.

@James Harden is the slipperiest player the the league.

Los Angeles Lakers @ Los Angeles Clippers

@There are way too many hot, young women going out with old (rich) men in Los Angeles. Man.

@Kobe Bryant is still Kobe Bryant. The ‘raise up’ wing three pointer he hits with alarming regularity is probably the toughest shot any player takes in the league and it is also probably the most demoralising for the opposition.

@Yes Blake, the dunks are nice. But they are still only worth two points.

@Pretty sure Vinny Del Negro pulls names out of a hat to pick his starters and their minutes.

@Chauncey Billups has some truly horrible ties.

@Andrew Bynum is the biggest and strongest player in the league. There is no one in the entire NBA who can play him one on one any more. He made DeAndre Jordan look like a 6-year-old on the low block.

@Blake Griffin looks lost in just about every half court set. Although to be fair, so would you if you had VDN teaching you.

@Randy Foye cannot play Kobe Bryant straight up. Who knew. Kobe was asked in his half time interview what he thought about the Clippers leaving Foye on an island. Kobe grinned and simply said in that situation ‘it’s just time to go to work’.

@Pau Gasol is the most skilled big man in the league. He is also the owner of the best stinkface. After Blake dunked on him a second time on Wednesday Pau gave a facial expression similar to the one given by a workman who arrives home to see his wife getting banged by an alligator. Amazing.

@A Clipper-Laker series would be fun, but the Lakers would win.

@Ramon Sessions is an upgrade over Derek Fisher in the same way that the animation in Toy Story is an upgrade over Steamboat Micky.


The Toronto Raptors are on the rise. No, really.

April 3, 2012

By Jack Maidment

After playing with the kind of lethargy normally associated with a morgue employee, the Toronto Raptors found themselves in a familiar 21-6 hole early against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday February 12.

They were doing everything they were supposed to: not playing defense, not making shots, not really doing much of anything.

Just as advertised.

The offensively challenged Lakers proceeded to pour in 34 points in the first quarter, a season high for an opponent of the Raptors. Oh, and Kobe was scoreless.

What happened next was deeply surprising and for those who doubt the veracity of the Mayan 2012 prophecy perhaps a little worrying.

The Raptors gave the Los Angeles Lakers a game. An actual game with lead changes and everything. Unbelievable.

Toronto have been in the NBA basement for so long that writers could feel confident copy and pasting season projections for years: Replace Bosh with Barnani, Carter with DeRozan, cap up the word ‘soft’.

But on this particular lunchtime the Raptors did something new. They showed some heart. They fought.

The old Raptors would have thrown in the towel; hopelessly out matched and outclassed by NBA royalty.

But this time they dug in and found a way, clawing back an 18 point deficit over three quarters and actually going ahead with under a minute to play on a Jose Calderon jump shot from the free throw line.

Nobody thought the point guard’s shot was going in. He may have been in the midst of a career night, he scored 30 points, but nobody in the Air Canada Centre thought he was actually going to sink it; that’s what years of perpetual losing will do for a fan base.

But he did.

And if the Lakers didn’t have a player who can consistently make fadeaway 18ft baseline double-teamed jump shots the Raptors would have tasted an improbable victory.

Despite the loss, 94-92, and many similar this season, the Raptors and their fans should be encouraged by the performance and the overall effort of the team under first year head coach Dwayne Casey.

They have had close losses before, plenty in fact, but the one against LA felt different. The ones they have played against Chicago, Miami and New York have felt different. The games have felt real, like the Raptors actually had a chance. Like they are actually going somewhere.

If you google news search Raptors+heart you get 90 results. And most of those also include the words ‘lack of’.

But if there is any justice in the world that should change this year.

Their roster may be… interesting, and a little short on elite NBA talent, but team basketball and belief can be great equalisers.

That and the fact they have Jonas Valancianas stashed in Europe, a legitimate seven foot center with oodles of potential and the toughness to protect Andre Bargnani, and a probable top five pick in this year’s draft.

With Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Andre Drummond and Harrison Barnes likely to be available it’s not a bad time for things to start looking up.

Next year their starting five could be Jerryd Bayless (I believe), DeMar DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani, Jonas Valuncianas and Top-5 Draft Guy X from the deepest Draft in years.

Get on the bandwagon early. Next season the Raptors will rise.