The Toronto Raptors are not quite a championship contender. Let's get that out of the way, first. Chris Bosh and Jose Calderon are the cornerstones of a perennial playoff team, but the supporting cast just isn't the kind of quality to push them past the Celtics, Pistons, or LeBrons. They're about the same talent level as the Magic, who have Big Bad Dwight and Tur-COGG-Loo at the fore.
That said, if Jermaine O'Neal can recapture his defensive form for fifty regular season games and the playoffs, most of the work toward becoming a championship team will be done, and it will be up to the likes of Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon to step up and play to their ceilings in the playoffs. O'Neal is one of those guys who was a true force in his prime, but at this point can only be expected to provide superior production in one facet of his game.
Thing is, a separate presence on block defense is exactly what could free up Bosh to be Bosh on both ends. When miscast as a full time center, Bosh is susceptible to being muscled, whereas he's better against the quicker guys who try to score with speed. In other words, I expect Bosh to utterly own Gerald Wallace (or Jared Dudley) on both offense and defense.
O'Neal only needs to be the Raptors' version of Emeka Okafor to bring a ton of value. It's Sam Mitchell's job to make sure he doesn't feel like he has to be a 20-10 guy anymore. 12-10 with excellent defense will make the most impact, because that way he'll be leaving the scoring to Bosh, Calderon, and others who can put it in the hoop with more efficiency.
For the Bobcats, there are two major questions heading into the game. First: How do they deal with Chris Bosh? When O'Neal is on the floor, Emeka will have to guard him, and if the Cats stick with the small starting lineup, that means Dudley will likely have to deal with Bosh. It's possible Nazr Mohammed is the correct answer, subbing him in for Dudley to guard O'Neal, with Okafor on Bosh. All this could be moot, though, as Okafor's been sick
and might only play limited minutes. It would be Alexis Ajinca's toughest test, yet.
In any event, the other matchups are clear for the Bobcats. Felton and Augustin will do their best to contain Calderon, Richardson will go heads up with Anthony Parker, and Gerald Wallace will take Jamario Moon.
The second question: Will the Cats play the Carroll-Morrison lineup again? The Raptors have been a terrible rebounding team thus far, so loading up on jump shooters, perhaps even with Richardson out there, too, could be a wrinkle the Raptors can't counter. Again, as with the Hornets game, when the Carroll-Morrison pairing pushed the Cats to victory, it all depends on the defense Morrison plays. If he can match up with Jamario Moon, or even use his 6-8 frame to harass Bosh enough to make him uncomfortable, it's an offensive set that's a nightmare to defend.
===Mini Shout OutsCharlotte Observer
-- "It's kind of sad how NBA teams no longer trade talent for talent, but more contract for contract."
-- It's kind of sad nobody's name is attached to this piece, otherwise we'd know which Observer writer doesn't understand that a player is his contract
. The Jason Richardson example in the piece perfectly illustrates the point, too, and he/she doesn't get it at all. Think of it like you're getting a car. For an extreme example, if you own a briefly-used Acura coupe, and have $150,000 left to pay off, you should absolutely trade it and the payment responsibility for a briefly-used Yaris that has $2,000 left to pay off. By almost any measure, the Acura is the "better" car, but paying that much money for it is lunacy because you could pay for the Yaris and
buy a freaking Lexus with the left over money.Chicago Tribune
, K.C. Johnson -- So much for Kirk Hinrich getting traded anytime soon. Thumb surgery. Bring on the Derrick Rose Era.