As any follower of the NBA will tell you, now's the time hoops gets serious.
It is the middle of February, the groundhog has done his shadow dance, and NBA teams are about to begin the final leg of the regular season after the all-star break. The last 30 games or so separate the men from the boys, and the Toronto Raptors, who will host the Memphis Grizzlies tonight at the Air Canada Centre, are in the mix.
"Things tighten up now after the all-star break, teams start to really focus in," Raptors head coach Jay Triano said after practice yesterday. "There's no surprises on what teams are going to do. It's a matter of execution, it's a matter of getting stops."
Triano's primary hope is that the Raptors continue the roll they've been on for more than two months, winning 22 of their last 32 games to make up for a tepid 7-13 start.
"I'd like to just see us continue playing the way we were before the break," said Triano, whose Raptors have not played since last Wednesday. "We had a nice little run going and, hopefully, we get back, we're a little bit rested and take care of our bodies and finish off the final 30."
With the trade deadline tomorrow, the feeding frenzy has already started for teams looking to strengthen their lineup for the stretch run.
The Raptors (29-23) have won eight of their past nine games to move into fifth spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
Chris Bosh represented Toronto at last Sunday's all-star game in Dallas and said yesterday he doesn't think general manager Bryan Colangelo needs to make any alterations to the lineup by the trade deadline.
"If Bryan feels that he has to make a move to make us better, then that's his job," Bosh said. "I think we're pretty good. We have a pretty good team and I think we're confident in each other and we can get it going the second half."
Bosh is just thankful the Raptors appear secure in their hunt for a playoff spot, which was not the case a year ago. Coming out of the 2009 all-star break, the Raptors were 21-34 and 14th in the East, 23 games behind the front-running Boston Celtics.
"I remember that feeling, how much I missed [the playoff hunt]" Bosh said. "Sitting at home early May, I was bored. I didn't have anything to do when the season was over. It's the best season in basketball [the postseason] That's what we play 82 games for."
Tonight's game will be the second meeting of the season between the Raptors and Grizzlies, who scored 39 points in the fourth quarter to earn a 115-107 decision last Oct. 30.
It was just the second game of the season, and Triano says it is history as far as he is concerned.
"They're completely different and we are not doing anything the same defensively," the coach said. "We've watched [game video] but we're like laughing at some of the things we were doing at that point of the year, and how we've changed since then."
The Raptors appear to be well-positioned to begin the latter part of their schedule. Tonight's game will mark the first time Triano has had all 14 players healthy and available to play.
"It took us a while at the beginning to find where we needed to be and what we needed to do," he said.
"I think our guys are pretty dedicated at finishing off what we started. I don't think anybody feels satisfied with where we are.
"There's still teams ahead of us, we're going to try and chase those teams and see if we can be playing our best basketball when we have to."
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