by TJ Zwarych… For the first time since 1976, the Saskatchewan Roughriders finish first place in the CFL Western Division. Although this is a huge feat and means a lot to the Roughriders’ organization, they aren’t near happy yet. This first place finish means that the Riders will have a first round bye in the playoffs and will play the winner of Calgary and Edmonton who play in the first round. First place also means that the Western Finals will be played at Mosaic Stadium in Regina.
We all know that the Roughriders have the best fans in Canada. They sell more merchandise than all other CFL teams combined, all home games are nearly sold out and other teams hate travelling to Saskatchewan because of the immense noise produced by the 13th man (the fans). With the Riders now one game away from the Grey Cup, Rider fans could not be more excited.
To clinch first place, the Riders had to get through the Calgary Stampeders Saturday, November 7th, and oh baby did they ever. With constant chants of HENRY, to psych out Stampeder quarterback Henry Burris, the Riders came away with the victory 30-14.
The quarterbacking battle was won by the Riders and many fans thought that is exactly what it would take for the Riders to come away with the victory. Darian Durant, the Riders’ nominee for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player award threw 36 passes in which he completed 24 for 296 yards and 2 touchdowns. On the other side of the field, Calgary quarterback Henry Burris threw for 221 yards and 1 interception on 15-25 pass attempts.
The rushing game was nearly the only area of Saturday’s game that the Stampeders did better. The Stamps, (lead by Jofferey Reynolds with 107 yards) combined for 171 yards rushing and one touchdown while the Riders, (lead by Wes Cates with 54 yards) combined for 117 yards and 1 touchdown.
The Roughriders’ 2009 award nominees all had good games. John Chick, the Riders’ nominee for best defensive player had 6 tackles and 1 sack to show that he did really deserve to be the one nominated. Darian Durant had a fantastic game with nearly no mistakes as he had 2 more touchdowns than he had interceptions. Interceptions have really haunted him this season but this game he had none. He also seemed to have found a new go to receiver with Weston Dressler out in Andy Fantuz. Fantuz had 123 yards on 12 receptions. Outstanding Canadian nominee Rob Bagg had a critical touchdown reception and Outstanding LinemanGene Makowski and Outstanding Special Teams Player Jason Armstead had solid games like always as well.
First place in the West was key for the Riders this season. If they can just get that one win at home, the will be in the Grey Cup facing the BC Lions, Hamilton Tiger-Cats or (and most likely) the Montreal Alouettes. The reason first place is more important this year than most, is because if the Riders do make it to the Grey Cup, it will be pretty much a home game as the game is in Calgary. Rider fans have no problem travelling to the Grey Cup in Calgary as it is close to home and there are many, many Rider fans who live in Alberta.
The Roughriders still have some key players injured who have chances of returning before seasons end which just may propel them to a Grey Cup win. Receiver Weston Dressler, halfback Eddie Davis and offensive tackle Wayne Smith are all not ruled out to be back by the West Final or Grey Cup which could seriously help the Riders.
by TJ Zwarych… It has been made clear to fans that the chances of Chris Bosh staying in Toronto after his contract is up is slim. Despite this, Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo is doing all that he can to make him stay. Should recently acquired Sonny Weems stay with Raptors and not go to a d-league team, they would have a full fifteen man roster. Out of those fifteen, only 3 are returning players from last season: Chris Bosh, Jose Calderon and recently resigned Andrea Bargnani. The Raptors had a season that ended up much below expectations last year with only 33 wins. Colangelo has done all that he can to change the image of this team, make them better and to make Chris Bosh remain a Raptor for years to come.
Bosh has been the face of the franchise ever since (the much hated by Raptor fans) Vince Carter left Toronto in one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history. In his career, Bosh has averaged close to a double-double with 19.3 ppg and 9.2 rpg. In 2008-2009, Bosh had his best scoring year of his career and second best rebounding year. The last four years, he has had just over 22 points per game and has stayed consistent. It has been rumored that he doesn’t want to stay a Raptor because Toronto is a small basketball market, and he wants to go play somewhere where he would be in an opposite situation. The hopes of Toronto fans and Bryan Colangelo is that if the Raptors can put a winning product on the court and win a few playoff series that Bosh will want to stay with the Raptors.
Out of all the changes made by the Raptors this summer, the one that is by far the most significant is the signing of former Magic swing man Hedo Turkoglu. Last season, Turkoglu averaged 17 ppg, 5 apg, 5 rpg and 1 steal a game. With the addition of Hedo, the Raptors found that wing player that can be a playmaker that they have desperately been looking for since Vince Carter left.
Other significant additions include Jarrett Jack, a solitified point guard who can back up Jose Calderon. Demar Derozan, a highflying rookie they acquired in the draft. Reggie Evans, a rebounding machine and Marco Bellinelli, a young swing man with a great outside shooting stroke.
Although the Raptors have made a lot of changes, one worry of Raptor fans is that they didn’t move forward, just sideways. They got a lot of new players, but did they necessarily get better players? Let’s weigh the changes:
Key Aquisitions: Hedo Turkoglu, Demar Derozan, Jarret Jack, Reggie Evans, Marco Bellinelli, Rasho Nesterovic
Total PPG from last year: 48.9
Key Losses: Shawn Marion, Anthony Parker, Joey Graham, Jason Kapono, Kris Humphries
Total PPG from last year: 43.4
So based on last years stats, the aquisitions that they have made are better scorers then those of who they gave up, and that doesn’t even count what Derozan will score this year because there were obviously no NBA stats for him from last year because he is a rookie.
Personally, I think the Raptors have moved forward with these moves and will be a better team this year then they were in years past. This is the best Raptor team I have seen since the pre Vince Carter being a baby era and I would not only expect them to make the playoffs this year, but possibly if they are on a role at the end of the season to win a first round playoff series.
Hopefully for the Raptors, Chris Bosh will see the effort Colangelo and the gang have put in to make this team a contender and will want to stay in a Raptor uniform. If he stays, the Raptors can continue to move forward while building their team around Bosh in hopefully becoming NBA champions in the years to come.
by TJ Zwarych… Despite no games being played, the Eastern Conference of the CFL was very busy. First off, after being told to stay home from practice and a game, the Toronto Argonauts have traded receiver Arland Bruce to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for rights to defensive lineman Corey Mace, a 3rd round pick in the 2010 draft and a conditional pick in the 2011 draft. The Argonauts have been dying to get rid of Bruce for awhile now after he was fined by the CFL for his Michael Jackson tribute touchdown celebration and by his team after forgetting his playbook in a plane. It was the last straw for the team when Bruce publicly criticized coach Bart Andrus and quarterback Kerry Joseph. Before the suspension, Bruce was leading the team with receiving yards and catches, he also lead the Argos in these categories the previous three seasons.
In other news, two days after signing quarterback Michael Bishop, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have released quarterback Richie Williams and former Lion defensive tackle Tryone Williams. Many thought Richie Williams was the best quarterback the Blue Bombers had, but coach Mike Kelly had him as their third quarterback and was quick to get rid of him after the signing of Bishop. In his only three seasons in Hamilton, Richie Williams backed up many different quarterback as well as being a starter and never in one season had a QB efficiency rating of under 80.
What free agent would you pick up for your team?
- Before joining the Bombers, Tryone Williams was part of one of the best defensive lines in league history (Cam Wake, Tyrone Williams, Aaron Hunt and Brent Johnson) with the BC Lions. Williams had 27 sacks in his seven years with the Lions but has yet to record one with season. Williams has had only one season with under 40 tackles and that was his rookie season. Currently, Williams is on pace for 9 tackles this season, but has not had very much playing time.
One team that is in need of both a backup quarterback and a defensive tackle is the Saskatchewan Roughriders. Many fans have been calling for the pulling of Darian Durant but the Riders have no one who can back him up so that would be stupid of them. Richie Williams would be perfect for pushing Darian Durant to play his best and if he doesn’t to fill in. Six foot 4 three hundred pound Tyrone Williams would also be a great fit in the Riders defensive line as they are in desperate need for some size and strength in the middle to stop the run and replace Chunky Adams.
This has been a very busy week for teams in the Eastern Conference and these transactions should benifit other teams.
by TJ Zwarych… The Toronto Raptors are finally playing as a team and up to their full potential as they beat the Orlando Magic, and are currently on a five game winning streak. Raptors fans should be rejoicing, their team is playing great, they took down a conference power house, all is good…right?
The Raptors are playing great, but it is doing more bad for them than good. They have no chance of making the playoffs, so all they are doing by winning these games is lessening their chances at Blake Griffin or whoever will be the top players in this year’s draft.
If there were no draft lottery, the Raptors would currently sit at the ninth pick in this year’s draft. Had this been a five game losing streak and not a five game winning streak, they would sit with the seventh pick with the potential of a few other twenty win teams creeping ahead of them in the standings.
Now I’m not saying they should go blowing games because that’s just dumb. Personally I would like to see the lottery changed into every team who doesn’t make the post season having an equal chance, but that is a different issue.
What I think the Raptors should do is try out their younger or more inexperienced players. Give guys like Ukic, Mensah-Bonsu, and Patrick O’Bryant more minutes.
Being a Raptor fan, I did find myself cheering as they went on to beat the Magic and their first five game winning streak of the season, it isn’t the best outcome for the team. The way the Raptors are playing, they could quite easily slip out of contention for a top 10 pick in next year’s draft.
By TJ Zwarych… Two teams going in opposite directions continued that today. The Jazz matched their longest win streak since 1999 with eleven straight wins today as they handed the Toronto Raptors their fifth straight loss 109-101.
Deron Williams has been leading his team lately and did not stop that trend tonight as he had 25 points and eight assists. Kyle Korver also had a big game as he had 20 points and 8 rebounds coming off the bench.
Chris Bosh had a huge game for the Raps with 30 points and 10 boards but it wasn’t enough. For the most part their starters got it done, Bargnani had 20 points and 8 rebounds, Parker had 16 points and 7 assists and Calderon had 10 points and 11 assists. Pops Mensah-Bonsu, a new signing for the Raptors gave them 7 rebounds tonight after a career-high 10 on Friday, seems to be a good signing. After the game, Bosh was quoted as saying “I’m just looking at the next game. I don’t care to define a loss anymore,” Bosh said. “They are the best team in the league right now, but it really doesn’t matter who we play, we are trying to win games.” He really doesn’t sound to happy with the way his team is performing lately and you really can’t blame him.
The Raptors tried to put together a fourth quarter come back at the end of the game (which they seem to be trying to do a lot) which Calderon wasn’t even on the floor for. Like always the Raptors got real close as they brought it within 1 point around the seven minute mark in the fourth quarter then came up short.
Jay Triano must not be happy with his teams performance, but you have to wonder, how much time does he have left? I think if they want a playoff run late this season, they need to change coaches quick. If not and they are looking for a high draft pick this off-season, stick with him, but I think he has to be gone in the summer.
By TJ Zwarych… Most of the year, Kobe and Lebron have seemed to be in a two pronged race for the MVP, with D-Wade and Dwight Howard being more of an after thought. Well Kobe and Lebron are obviously the two best players in the league, but I don’t think anyone is more valuable to their team then Dwayne Wade.
Last year, the Heat were a terrible team at best with Dwayne Wade being injured most of the year. They finished with only 15 wins and ended up at the cellar of a weak Eastern Conference.
This season however, is a different story. The heat currently sit 5th in the East and are quickly approaching the Hawks for fourth. Wade is having a fantastic season as he is averaging a career high in points per game (29.2), steals per game (2.2), blocks per game (1.4) and almost a career high in assists per game and rebounds per game with 7.4 apg and 5 rpg.
Wade and his Heat did a great job of spoiling Shaqs return to South Beach on Wednesday (March 4th), with a big win over the Suns 135-129. In a very high scoring game, Wade lead his team to victory with 35 points while tying a career high in assists with 16.
When you almost single handedly turn around a team like Wade did this year, you definitely need to have a lot of consideration for the MVP award. Wade is the NBA’s leading scorer and is in the top ten in 21 positive statistical categories. (www.nba.com/playerfile/dwyane_wade/career_stats.html)
With a healthy Wade, the Heat have improved leaps and bounds this season and will be a serious contender for a championship.
by TJ Zwarych… It was a tough ride but the Saskatchewan Roughriders locked up a home playoff game and they look as though they will have a near full roster with most of their starters back for the first time since early season.
The Riders have two players this season who are finalists for CFL awards and they are Gene Makowsky for outstanding lineman, and Weston Dressler for rookie of the year.
Makowsky is up against Scott Flory, now I do not know much about Scott Flory because I don’t really follow Eastern teams offensive linemen, so I do not really know who will win that category, however I do think Weston Dressler will win the rookie of the year category over Prichae Rodriguez.
The statistics are pretty similar as Dressler has 24 more yards receiving then Rodriguez but Rodriguez has 1 more touchdown. The reason I think the award should go to Dressler because of his determination and will to win. He was the Roughriders’ entire passing game when their other receivers went down.
At the start of the season he was there fifth receiver. He was behind Matt Dominguez, Andy Fantuz, Adarius Bowman and DJ Flick. He was the Roughriders’ only receiver over 1000 yards and he made dozens of unbelievable catches throughout the season.
Going into their playoff game this weekend, it looks as though the Roughriders will have Matt Dominguez, Adarius Bowman and Wes Cates will be playing after a scare with his ankle last game.
Michael Bishop will be the starting quarterback for the Roughriders this weekend and I think that will be a good thing. Personally I still think Darian Durant is our best at that position, but hopefully Bishop will bring a good veteren presence and will lead the Riders to victory.
If he doesn’t, I hope Miller will not hesitate to put Darian Durant in. I understand we want a specific starting quarterback, but I don’t think that we need to choose one guy and stick with him no matter what. If he plays bad, I do not think we should stick with him.
I think with all of there players back the Riders will keep winning and be in every game, hopefully returning as the Grey Cup champions.
by TJ Zwarych… The Toronto Raptors are now 3-0 for the first time since the 2004 season, edging out the Milwaukee Bucks in a tight up-and-down game to stay undefeated.
Jose Calderon played a fantastic game on Saturday as he set a new career high in points with 25 while also adding nine assists and five rebounds The Spainard also hit a very clutch three near the end of the game to take the lead.
Chris Bosh looked like his all-star self as he had 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. I am really impressed with a big man like that getting six assists in a game. It shows he is being a team player and not forcing up shots when he shouldn’t.
Jason Kapono was the only bench player who scored any points for the Raptors with 9. Moon was the 3rd leading scorer for the Raptors with 15. Jermaine O’Neal had a decent game with 11 points and eight rebounds and Anthony Parker matched his career high in steals that he set earlier this year with 4, also adding 11 points.
Michael Redd was the leading scorer for the Bucks with 19 but he also missed a very critical shot in the corner near the end of the game that would have tied it up.
There were three other Bucks in double figures as Bogut had 14 points and nine boards, Sessions had 12 points and 9 assists. Villanueva tried to pick up his intensity this game as he had 16 points but only 5 rebounds.
by TJ Zwarych… Well, the season is finally here and the Raptors started it out with a big 95-84 win against the division rival Philadelphia 76ers. Jermaine O’Neal played a great game in his start with the Raptors, and the Raptors’ defense was also great.
“I feel really good,” O’Neal said. “I said from the time I got here that I wanted to be part of the team and bring playoff-type intensity every night. We have to treat every game like a playoff game.”
He sounds happy to be in Toronto, and when you decide you want to come to Toronto instead of Cleveland to play with Lebron and the Cavs, he must really feel strongly about the Raptors organization.
After starting out cold and only scoring 18 in the first quarter, the Raptors soared in the second quarter scoring 33 points taking a 51-45 lead at half time and they did not look back. Their defense did not look like the Raptor defense of old as they held a Sixers team who has many offensive threats to only 84 points.
Chris Bosh had a fantastic start to the season as he went off for 27 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, Jermaine O’Neal and Jason Kaponowere the other two highest scorers for the Raptors as Kapono had 15 and O’Neal had 17 and also eight rebounds.
The leading scorer for Philly was Andre Iguodala who had 15 points and six assists.
by TJ Zwarych… If the Toronto Raptors were to win the Atlantic divison this coming season, it is fair to say that it would be a “steal”.
Boston is the clear favorite to win the division this year, and ultimately the Eastern Conference. Of course, this will probably happen with the big three still intact.
The Celtics will be again a championship contender. However, they aren’t the only team in the Atlantic division looking good this year.
With the aquisition of Jermaine O’Neal, the Raptors have added a player who when healthy–is one of the best forwards in the game. They now have a very confident Jose Calderon who should do beautifully, as he is finally the definite starter on this team.
Chris Bosh is one year stronger and more experienced, and Andrea Bargnani looks to have a bounce back year. I predict he will not only have a better performance than 2007-2008, but better than his rookie season as well. You add Anthony Parker who is a very solid player, and high flying Jamario Moon to the equation, that is a very solid main six.
I would say right now that the biggest question for the Raptors is their bench, which I still think will be strong. You look at the downside and you see a lot of unknown young players who you aren’t sure will produce.
However, they are young, which usually means they will improve. If all these young players produce, they should have no problems.
I am expecting Kris Humphries and Joey Graham to have increased roles on the team this year. Without Rasho Nesterovic, if Jermaine O’Neal goes down (knock on wood) they will really look to Humphries for some desperately needed rebounding.
If he stays healthy, Jermaine O’Neal will be huge for the Raptors, as he will bring a big rebounding presence in the middle who can also score.
This will help primarily by relieving Chris Bosh of double teams, which will allow him to score a lot more and be banged around a lot less inside. This will hopefully allow him to stay healthy for a full season. If Bosh continues to get double teamed a lot, Jermaine O’Neal is a fantastic second option!
For all the fantasy fanatics out there, I would really watch Jason Kapono. I think he will be a great pickup this season as teams will give all of their defensive attention trying to stop Bosh and O’Neal inside. This will leave Kapono open for a lot of open outside shots, and when open, we all know he won’t miss very many.
All of these components could lead the Raptors to steal the division title from the Celtic, and hopefully right to the NBA Finals for the first time in their history.
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