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Tuesday night saw the first battle between the Toronto Raptors and the Orlando Magic since the two teams met in the first round of last year's playoffs.
It was a slightly modified script than the one we were treated to last May, but unfortunately for Raps fans, the ending was one we are very familiar with.
The glaring weakness following the Raptors unceremonious exit from the 2008 postseason was their interior presence, or more specifically, the lack thereof. It became painfully obvious for anyone who watched Chris Bosh attempt to handle all of the heavy lifting against the Magic that the team desperately needed another frontcourt piece. That led to the July trade that brought Jermaine O'Neal to Canada's biggest city.
Tuesday night provided Sam Mitchell and the Raptors brass with a perfect opportunity to gauge the effectiveness of the trade, and just how well they matched up with the Magic now that they had added some muscle at the center position.
The Results? Another Raptors defeat, 103-95.
Jermaine O'Neal, for all intents and purposes, played Dwight Howard to a stalemate. JO had 16 points and 10 rebounds compared to Howard's 18 and 9. Both were plagued by foul trouble at different points of the contest, preventing either from imposing their will with any type of consistency. Nevertheless, Howard was far from the dominant force that we saw last spring which is exactly what the Raptors were looking for when they traded for O'Neal.
The impact on Chris Bosh's game was felt too. Set free from the difficult task of guarding Howard for most of the game, CB4 poured in one of the best outings of his career. He scored 40 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, giving Stan Van Gundy an ulcer in the process. He was virtually unstoppable all night.
So with Howard nullified and Bosh putting up all-world type of numbers, you'd figure that the Raptors would be in prime position to finally take one from their rivals from Florida.
Not so fast.
The Raptors seem to be suffering from a much different problem through the first 10 games of the season that the one that led to their elimination last year.
Toronto's production from their supporting cast (Anthony Parker, Jamario Moon, Jason Kapono, Andrea Bargnani, Joey Graham, Will Solomon) has grinded to a halt. Every one of those players that I mentioned have been given their respective chance to shine, and all of them have fallen short. Tuesday night was a perfect example.
Andrea Bargnani: 23 minutes. 5 points, 3 rebounds.
Anthony Parker: 36 minutes. 4 points, 3 rebounds, 0 assists.
Will Solomon: 32 minutes. 10 points, 4 assists, 7 turnovers.
Jamario Moon: 13 minutes. 0 points, 2 rebounds.
Jason Kapono: 31 minutes. 7 points, 3 rebounds, 0 assists.
Take a look at those numbers again. Actually, don't bother. Let me summarize them for you.
I'm willing to admit that Jose Calderon's absence from the line-up due to a hamstring injury had a big effect on the Dino's, but the type of numbers you see above are not an anomaly. They are becoming the norm.
What you'll get from most of the Raps roster has become a crapshoot, and until they fix that problem, you can sum up the Raptors chances this season in the same way.
No amount of double-doubles from Bosh and O'Neal will allow them to achieve a higher level of success unless the role players start providing more consistent results. If it turns out that these players can't meet those requirements, then it's on Bryan Colangelo to make a trade. With rumors swirling about BC's interest in both Gerald Wallace and Al Harrington, that may happen sooner rather than later.
One thing is for certain however. Something in Toronto has to change, or else the 2009 version of the Toronto Raptors will be doomed for the same plight of the 2008 edition.
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