The San Antonio Spurs (35-6) will look to start the second half of the season off on the right foot as they host the Toronto Raptors (13-28).
The Spurs are currently on a six game winning streak and sit atop of the NBA standings with the best record in the league. The Raptors will look to snap their four game losing streak tonight in San Antonio but it will prove to be a daunting task facing the NBA's best team.
To talk about tonight's matchup, I turn to fellow Bloguin blogger Sean at Hoop Heads North a fantastic site for all things Raptors.
In this Q&A we talk about the state of the Raptors after the departure of Chris Bosh, the addition of Leandro Barbosa for Toronto, tonight's contest and much more.
Jeff: This is a question I'm sure you heard over and over but how big of an impact has the loss of Chris Bosh been to the Raptors franchise and is it safe to say the franchise is in a rebuilding phase?
Sean: The loss of Chris Bosh has definitely been huge. There is no way you can immediately replace 24 points and 10 rebounds in your line up. So, this has forced the Raptors organization to rebuild and assess the youth and draft picks they have. The next 6 months will be very interesting time for the Raptors organization - the trade deadline, the NBA entry draft, expiring contracts and the Bosh-trade exception must be used by then. The team will no doubt have a brand new look for the start of the 2011-2012 season.
Speaking of losses, Hedo Turkoglu was a flop and was traded to the Phoenix Suns for Leandro Barbosa. Granted Barbosa recently got injured but how do you asses the trade?
At face value, one would look at Hedo's production in Orlando and Leandro's production in Toronto and say "Why would you make that trade?". But we all know that Hedo was not a leader in Toronto, on or off the court - he essentially played when he wanted to play. Colangelo had no choice but to move him. In addition to that, Hedo's numbers in Phoenix, after being initially traded from the Toronto, were pedestrian at best. Leandro Barbosa on the other hand has come in and given the Raptors veteran leadership and he's been willing to help younger players like Bayless, Weems, DeRozan, and Gaines. Unfortunately Leandro continues to be plagued by injury, but as far as the dynamic in the locker room and off the court, Leandro has been a great fit.
Andrea Bargnani just seems to not develop a more consistent game. One game is looks great and in another he can't get things going. Now with Bosh gone, do the Rators need more out of Bargnani or is this the best we will see out of him?
I don't think Andrea Bargnani will ever be a franchise player, he just does not seem to have the personality build for that kind of role or responsibility. Overall I have been happy with Bargnani's play this season, but you are right - there are times or games where he isn't able to have the impact the organization and fans alike want him to have. I think the moves the Raptors make between now and July will definitely be focused on trying to bring in another player who can create his own shot and be effective in the clutch, who can help take the pressure off of Bargnani and while still allowing players like DeRozan to continue to grow.
Let's talk tonight's matchup. The Raptors are a very young squad facing a battled tested Spurs squad. What should the Raptors do to escape San Antonio with a win?
The Raptors MUST commit to the defensive end of the floor. They pulled out a huge win in Texas the last time they were there against Dallas, and if not for a poor third quarter effort against Houston the game may have ended differently. But it all comes from a commitment to giving 100% on the defensive end.
What matchup would you tell Spurs and Raptors fans to keep an eye on? Also, what's your prediction for tonight's game?
I think the matchup between DeRozan & George Hill should be an interesting one - two young players continuing to solidify themselves in the league and make a presence felt on their team. If I was a betting man, I'd put my wager on the Spurs, but if the Raptors play solid defense that they are capable of (we've seen stretches of games this season!) then the Raptors could pull the upset in a very close game.