The media frenzy that surrounded Bosh this past Friday in NYC, shifted over to Bargnani on Sunday. This seems to happen twice a season when Bargnani gets set to face the player most compared him to pre-draft. With Bargnani playing the best basketball of his career, this is the first time I feel the Dirk comparisons are somewhat justifiable.
“He’s way more athletic than I ever was in my career,” said Nowitzki. “He’s got a quick first step. What you have to do as a young player is improve year over year and I think he did that. He’s always a tough matchup. … The sky’s the limit.”
Big words coming from a former MVP, as Dirk acknowledged what fans in Toronto have begun to see over the past month. Bargnani’s out of control drives have become more methodical, the jumper is falling, he is growing into a better help defender and has finally found his voice on the court. It took a while, but even the skeptics have to stop and look at this guy for the player he has become. Bargnani is playing relaxed. His confidence is building as he sees his value on this team and with that, truly, the sky IS the limit.
Bargnani was just a part of the big picture when it comes to talking about this game. There was a whole lot of good from the Raptors perspective and the complete opposite from the Mavericks. While it is easy to use the early start and the refs as an excuse for the type of game the Mav’s had, they looked nothing like a powerhouse in the West. Horrible on the defensive end playing right into the hands of their opponent while looking out of sync offensively. Josh Howard made only his 6th start of the season and it showed. His shot was off and he played tentative throughout the game. Terry, Marion and Nowitzki came ready to play but as the game progressed they were using so much energy on the offensive end that they never had a chance to D up.
Looking at the Raptors, this was probably the best game they have played as a team to date. The one broken link was Hedo but even his horrible game couldn’t put a damper on the way the team was rolling. Jose Calderon couldn’t do anything wrong. Made the right pass, got everyone involved while mixing up his own game by driving and draining daggers. I like him coming off the bench because he has that ability to make even the bench guys feel comfortable on the offensive end. He becomes a legit scoring threat on the 2nd unit. Having him on the floor towards the end of the game, gives me a sense of security that he will make the right play.
Right now the one thing that stands out is, win or lose, these guys are loving playing together. Sure getting the W is the end game, but if the team is not on the same page those would be few and far between. A 10-3 record over the last 13 with players like Amir Johnson, Sonny Weems, Antoine Wright and even Marcus Banks contributing has taken pressure of Bosh. When your role players can come in and be effective immediately like they were against the Mav’s, you can’t help but get excited about the team as a whole.
The win gave the Raptors a winning record at the mid-way point of the season for only the 5th time in 15 seasons. I said it before and will do again, it took longer than expected for them to come together but there was no doubt in my mind they would make it work. Pre-season I broke down how the team would match up with the other 29 and the Raptors are on the right track. I put the team 45 wins and after the next 41 games are played, I fully expect that to be the mark they finish at — If not better.