My old email-pard, Frank Cook, is going to get an eyeful of Toronto troubles when his Indiana Pacers come to town to tangle with the Raptors in what has to be a totally unpredictable contest.
The reason it's NOT predictable is because currently Chris Bosh is slumping ... and taking the playoff aspirant Raptors with him. Without Bosh playing at near MVP-levels, as he did the first month of the season, the paper-thin local NBA squad is possibly not even the favourite in tonight's heralded Return of the Little Engine ... and Rasho.
A month ago, this game would have strictly been novelty value. How badly will TJ Ford get booed. How madly with Rasho Nesterovic cheered. The game would be a foregone conclusion. Bosh was as bad a beast as there was in the East. The ex-Pacer, Jermaine O'Neal was rounding into his old bad-ass self. Five straight double-doubles, if few finishes. He was maybe another month from turning in 40-minute efforts, instead of flagging in crunch time. There was the niggling off-on performance schedule of Andrea Bargnani, but being at home and on an even game, the stars foretold of a good game. Yep, it was going to be all about squelching Ford and saying good-bye.
But an unfunny thing happened on the way to tonight's game. O'Neal got hurt, followed by the most dreaded gut blow the Raptors could take, an injury to Jose Calderon, the anti-Ford. Both were back quickly. Too quickly. And neither came back at anything like the levels they WERE playing at or COULD play. And that cost Sam Mitchell his job. In the absence of two thirds of the team's talent triangle, the rest of the squad rallied with all the enthusiasm of Fred Weiss watching Vince Carter approach for take-off. Not the most skilled coach in terms of strategy, Mitchell had always had player's effort as his sop to the deficiency. They quit. He got fired. Turns out, they are still looking like quitters three games into Jay Triano's tenure as head man. An agonizing loss to Portland is the only saving grace from a five-game streak where the rest of the losses were all hammer jobs.
And the truth of the matter might be that the man taking the air out of the room might very well be Chris Bosh. Bosh has been ... ordinary and less-than-ordinary throughout December. It's been suggested he might be battling some ailment or maybe the flu. But for two weeks, the man who soldiered on even in the absence of O'Neal and Calderon, has been absent. He's decided he's become a three-point shooting star (he's not). He's played a LOT of Ole defence and his double-doubles of late have been of the cheapest variety possible. He's shown intolerance for the inadequacies of his teammates, recalling the worst days of the West Coast Smirk. In general, he's playing a lot like the way the last Toronto superstar did on his way to the Jersey shore.
Nerves rubbed raw by the jobbing Toronto fans took at the hands of Vince Carter, there's a muttering minority who want to deal Bosh before he demands a trade, or walks 18 months hence on his own. They claim to have seen this act before and they don't like it. They don't like that Bargnani, seemingly ascendent as a defender AND as an offensive weapon just three weeks ago, has followed his leader into the mire of ineffectiveness. They wonder if Mitchell might have been an innocent bystander of Bosh's problems, rather than the presumed cause of it. Worst of all, they don't like that the Toronto team they banked on to overcome the Maple Leaf woes in town, was getting tonged worst that the previously advertised as hopeless puck squad.
To them I say, "Chill out!"
Methinks the Pacers and the ex content will be a tonic for Toronto's troubles. A single win won't solve everything, but I got the feeling it will be the start of emerging from a string of games the Raptors, even a playoff ready team, would have had trouble winning much more than a game or two anyways. The trick is to stop the momentum of the slide. And I think Indiana will provide that very thing.
Bosh has publicly supported Triano but you have to believe he was hurting for his bud, Sam. The brain cramps regularly on display by the likes of Jamario Moon, Will Solomon and ... let's face it ... the grumbly O'Neal, surely must have gotten to him. O'Neal has expected superstar treatment from the refs and hasn't gotten it. He's glowered and glared to not much good effect. He's been pretty much of a black hole with less than stellar results. And the, "I'll be back to my old ways in a month or two," has passed from promising to historically inacurrate. So, Bosh has some issues with teammates and all.
And I don't think he's healthy. He's being outjumped AND occasionally beaten down the floor by folks who have no business racing him. He's NOT ready to lead the league in minutes played. He's tough and wiry and all. But he's wearing down now, after less than two months, because he followed up a busy summer by playing too much under Mitchell's win-now or I might get fired game plan. Prescient that. (Any surprise the other early season minutes-played leader, Stephen Jackson of Golden State, is now out with a long-term injury?)
But the difference between Bosh and Carter is that he has a spine and a heart. Although, it's not as big a heart or as stiff a spine as James, Bryant or Garnett's. He's NOT looking for a way out. Sitting out the fourth quarter (and a fair bit of the third) last night will have Bosh in a foul mood for tonight's contest. That should be bad for Ford et al.
I could be wrong, but I think it's time to quit the Bosh Bashin' and climb back on the bandwagon with those of us who treasure the Texan's sublime talents. Besides, I'll be too busy booing Ford to have anything left for heaping on Bosh.