Friday Ramblings – April 24, 2015: Raptors Hit a Wall, Jays Sweep Away O’s and NFL Schedule Release

The Tale of Two Seasons continued into the playoffs for the Raptors. After going 24-7 in the 2014 half of the season, they went 25-24 in 2015 and are 0-2 in the playoffs. As any of us hardcore fans knew, and Ujiri has talked about it, this team was a work in progress and they played over their heads for a long stretch. Looking at last year from January 1 until April 24, 2014, this group was 35-20 (including 1-1 in the first 2 playoff games). In fact, the entire calendar year of 2014 was an incredible run as the Raptors went 61-30 from January 1-December 31 2014, including the playoff series versus Brooklyn. It seems that the “work in progress” has reared it’s ugly head and what we are seeing is the actual level that this team is capable of. In the off-season they added (2015 Sixth Man winner) Lou Williams and James Johnson, getting rid of John Salmons and Steve Novak. ON paper, that is an astronomical upgrade. It looked like it was on the court as well until the All-Star break. This group has struggled mightily and while we know this team goes as Kyle Lowry goes, the supporting cast has been equally bad. JV still hasn’t learned to put two hands on the ball and throw it into the basket. At 7-feet tall, there is NO NEED to try a soft little lay-in. Terrence Ross just seems like he doesn’t put enough practice time in because he misses shots that I could make and it looks like Derozan either needs a smaller ball or a bigger basket because if there were points for hitting the rim, he would be the scoring leader. Let’s also not forget Lou Williams missing those long distance 3-balls at the 22-second mark of the shot clock (???) and Vasquez, for all his late-game heroics, has no idea what to do with the ball once he catches it. Unfortunately, this group is not what we hoped it was and I believe the roster will look fairly different next season. I wouldn’t be ordering any jerseys with the names Ross, Williams or Vasquez anytime soon and if you are the one who bought that Landry Fields jersey, might as well grab a hair dryer and get those letters off now. While I believe they will put up a bit of a fight, I am calling the Wizards in six games. I’m proud of what this group accomplished but to take the next step, we need better players.

Proving again why Toronto is a terrible sports town, the Blue Jays came home after a 6-game road trip to start the season at 4-2 and fans were pumped and excited about the team. In a worst-case scenario, they opened a home stand against Tampa who has owned the Jays for 15 years regardless of roster, followed by Interleague Play against the Braves with the Jays having the WORST all-time record against NL teams since Interleague Play began 20 years ago. So, after the first seven games of a 10-game series they were 6-7 and in last place in the AL East and just like clockwork, the fair-weather fans started jumping off the bandwagon. After a 3-game sweep of the 2014 AL East Champion Orioles, the positive reviews are back. The Jays were impressive in all three games (other than the performance of the bullpen in the 9th inning on Thursday night) even without Jose Bautista for two of the three games. The problem with casual fans is that they don’t understand the basic principle of a baseball season: there are 162 games over six months. Going 2-5 in the first part of the first home series in April is not a real sample size. Unlike hockey, basketball and football who play fewer games over the same length of time, baseball teams need to be looked at on a month by month basis. Last season the Jays rolled through April and May in first place, only to fall apart in June. It is a much safer omen to heat up slowly through April and May, keeping the players healthy and rested and then start rolling through June, July and August. This is a good team. Better than any of the ones they have fielded in the past ten years. The thing is, with six rookies and an unfinished bullpen, patience is key. Don’t get me wrong, this is a make-or-break season for a lot of people, players and executives, but if we want to be playing meaningful games in August and September, treat it as a marathon, not a sprint. If the team is underperforming in early June, that is the time to worry. Until then sit back and enjoy the ride because I have a feeling it is finally going to pay off.

The NFL schedule was released a few days ago and what a difference a year makes for the Lions! Coming off a 7-9 season in 2013, they only had two nationally televised games in 2014. After the 11-5 season and Wild Card spot, they have 6 games on nationally in 2015! Their schedule is tougher this year playing in San Diego, vs Broncos, in Seattle, in New Orleans and vs 49ers, not to mention another game in London against the Chiefs. The new-look defense will be tested heavily in the spotlight with a Sunday night, two Monday nights and the annual Thanksgiving game. While everyone has focused on losing Suh, the key this year is the offense. Stafford needs to be better. He has the two best WRs in the league and hitting them is crucial. The running game will be improved with the oft-injured Reggie Bush gone and with stability in kicking, they just need everyone else to do their jobs. The Lions have a history of regressing after a good season and have not had many consecutive winning seasons over the past 25 years. The NFC is a tough conference and to have a chance at sniffing the playoffs they need to replicate or improve on last year’s record. If they can remain a top-10 defense and Stafford plays well, they might even win a playoff game for the first time since 1991. Only 6 days to the draft!!!!

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