Clash of the non-titans
By BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun
If memory serves, The Muppets Take Manhattan had a happy ending.
As soft as the Raptors are, maybe it's unfair to compare them to the Muppets. Upon closer inspection, though, Vince Carter could be the Raptors' version of Kermit the frog, with supporting roles going to Jalen Rose as Gonzo, Donyell Marshall as Fozzie Bear, Chris Bosh as Beaker and coach Kevin O'Neill as Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.
Visual or behavioural similarities aside, if the wide-eyed Muppets could conquer New York City, the Raptors should be able to put up a decent fight tonight when they visit the Knicks.
O'Neill has a great saying about the nature of day-to-day competition in the NBA. It goes something like, "Never discount how screwed up the opposition might be."
Well, the Knicks presently are the poster-children for being screwed up, the Raptors' own struggles notwithstanding.
The Knicks, 33-39, have lost two of their past three games, including a 111-97 pasting by the visiting Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday that had the Madison Square Garden crowd jeering its hometown heroes. Wasn't it mere months ago that Knicks general manager Isiah Thomas and coach Lenny Wilkens, both of whom have tainted Raptors blood in their veins, were being treated like heroes?
Physically, injuries have cut a swath through the Knicks' roster, claiming Allan Houston (knee), Tim Thomas (groin), Penny Hardaway (groin) and Dikembe Mutombo (hemorrhoids). And mentally, the Knicks still are recovering from "foul-gate," as the media caught Wilkens fibbing about his instructions in the dying seconds of a loss. That incident came on the heels of Thomas' verbal reaming of his players following a lazy win, a tirade that confirmed for cynical New Yorkers that it's Thomas, not Wilkens, who really is the coach.
When Thomas hired Wilkens, everyone figured it was going to end badly. But even the skeptics didn't know things would be this tense, this soon.
The Raptors, meanwhile, played better in the first three games of their current four-game trip than yours truly believed they would, or could. Of course, the way the game ended on Wednesday in Houston was all too familiar, as the Raptors wasted a laudable effort with some glaring errors.
Someone forgets to block out 6-foot-3 Rockets guard Steve Francis, who soars through the lane for a put-back dunk. Marshall commits an unnecessary and untimely intentional foul. And Rose wastes several valuable seconds dribbling the ball to halfcourt, rather than calling a timeout immediately, to set up Toronto's final possession.
We all know about the Raptors' weaknesses, but those errors weren't made because the club doesn't have enough size or enough heart. Those errors were the result of brainlock, or a lack of communication between coaches and players.
It added up to another loss, dropping the Raptors to 30-41 and officially ending their dreams of an above-.500 season.
While some pundits -- including the hoops analysts on ESPN -- claim the Raptors already are dead, they are far from mathematically eliminated. But at some point the Raptors actually need to beat the teams they're chasing.
What a concept!
Since the all-star break, the Raptors' record against the clubs involved in the battle for the last few Eastern playoff spots is 1-4 (two losses to Boston, win at Miami, loss to New York, loss to Cleveland).
The concern with the Raptors is that they aren't sharp enough or tough enough to get it done. The concern with the Knicks is that Thomas' organizational chain of command is causing confusion because it's missing a few links.
It should make for a real clash of the titans tonight. Call it the Toronto Muppets versus the New York Puppets.