Greetings from Denver!
With the NCAA Tournament in full swing, with upsets galore, where are five quick thoughts on the NBA and five more about the Toronto Raptors.
1. Nene: The Denver Nuggets have been excellent since Carmelo Anthony was traded and a major constant has been the improved play of this man. He's averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds per-game and he's shooting 60%. He has steadily come around during his career and plays the game hard and the right way with great determination and commitment to the team cause. Nene is a 'glue' guy for George Karl.
2. Carlos Delfino -The former Raptor went off yesterday for 30 points vs. the NY Knicks. It's good to see him back on the court healthy after battling concussion issues. The Milwaukee Bucks guard defends very hard and is a rugged team-first player. Never been the most consistent offensive guy but his ability to defend and provide hustle plays is pretty consistent. When he scores at a high level, like he did on Sunday, it's a huge bonus.
3. Steve Nash – It's good to see the Phoenix Suns point guard on the court and back from Injury. If the Suns have any chance at catching Memphis for the eighth playoff spot in the West they need him in the lineup. The Raptors visit the Suns on Wednesday, and it's always fun to see 'Captain Canada' in action. Enjoy it while it lasts. His Hall of Fame career will wind down eventually, lets hope later rather than sooner.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder fans: I was in Oklahoma City on Sunday night with the Raptors and all I can say is WOW! Every time I'm there I'm just amazed at how great their fans are. They are totally into the game and are at the game to watch the game and root on their team. Nothing else. Lots of fans in NBA cities should take note, why would you go to a game and pay big money to attend and not pay attention and get into it?? I see it all too often. These folks are 'REAL' Fans. Good for them.
5. Mike D'Antoni - The pressure is building on the New York Knicks coach. You get Carmelo and you better produce. The team has had lousy road losses to Detroit and Milwaukee this weekend, and terrible losses as well to the Cavs. The Knicks defense must improve big-time or D'Antoni is going to have the wrath of the fan base, ownership, management and the 'ultra-friendly and understanding' NY media on his case. It's a fun job isn't it? D'Antoni could be in trouble if this doesn't turn around soon. He's a good coach and good man. He better hold everyone accountable with the 'D' real quick.
Here are my five thoughts on the Raptors:
1. Raptors in Denver Monday night: Just a little food for thought for Monday's game here in the Mile High City. The Raptors are 0-5 all time playing here on the second night of a back-to-back. Denver is 9-0 when playing teams coming into town on a back-to-back. The altitude of the city becomes a factor late in a game, so it's better to get off to a great start and try to play with a lead, which is never easy here.
2. James Johnson: His defense on Kevin Durant on Sunday, which held the Thunder forward to 6-of-21 from the field was excellent. The big defensive three man has the length and lateral quickness to be a pest and he was just that. Johnson did a wonderful job of battling Durant away from the ball and not giving him quality touches in his scoring spots. Job VERY well done!
3. Leandro Barbosa: It was nice to have a veteran drop a big three pointer and get a big assist in final few plays of the game on Sunday, which by the way were great play calls by Jay Trian. Barbosa's poise and creativity under pressure are crucial to this team late in games.
4. Reggie Evans: The power forward took no nonsense from Kendrick Perkins and the Thunder big men and set the tone for his team inside. He really plays like a man out there and gives no ground to anyone. The Raptors are 3-3 since his return, which shows that Evans makes a difference. The team has a lot more swagger and toughness when he plays, and that's something which they desperately need.
5. Jerryd Bayless: He's much improved running the team in his last 10+ games. He's more under control and responsible with the ball. Bayless is getting teammates very good shots and not forcing his game as much, which means he's settling in. He has to improve his perimeter shot big-time this off-season, as he needs to be a 40% or better three-point shooter, to further open his game up. I see an up-tick here though currently.