By Frank McLean
The month of January is the beginning of a new year. It’s a time of hope, a new beginning as we start a new year with a clean slate so to speak and we try and not make the same mistakes that we did in the previous year. In reality, the dog-days of January stink.
After all the excitement of a December holiday season with family and friends and ringing in of the new year, January is a like a lump of coal you hope wasn’t in your Christmas stocking. The formerly red hot Raptors went 6-7 after Boxing Day.
January is one giant party-pooper. The weather is cold and damp and cloudy. Daylight hours are short and it’s still pitch dark before 6pm. It’s called the blahs and we all get it.
The Toronto Raptors are going through their own period of January blah’s right now and it showed Friday night in Charlotte where they suffered their biggest margin of defeat this year, a 34-point beat down by the Hornets.
The score was 113-79 and the 79-points the Raptors put up, as well as the 33.7-per cent field goal percentage, were season lows.
After a big month of December where the Raptors put up a 10-4 record, they head into Sunday night’s home game against the Phoenix Suns with more losses than all of last month.
“Yeah, we’ve been in a little funk lately,” Kyle Lowry said after Friday’s game. “We’re not playing on all cylinders right now.
“I just think it’s that time of year. No excuses at all. There’s just this mental fatigue, a little bit of travel fatigue, but no excuses. I think we might have done something like this, maybe, about this time last year? I don’t know, I’m not sure, but it happens. As a team we will figure a way out of it.”
There is something to what Lowry said. It is that time of year, the mental and travel fatigue.
The calendar we use in everyday life says we are in the middle of the first month of the beginning of the year. On the basketball calendar it says they are at the half way point.
As we hit the middle of January teams are at the midway point of the regular season schedule. Teams can see the All-Star Game on the horizon where they get a nice five day break featuring no games, no practices, and a chance to walk away from the grind and recharge their batteries before they hit the stretch drive before the playoffs.
Right now, those playoffs that seems like light years away from happening.
That five day break is four weeks away which is not that far off, but in the case of the Raptors counting Sunday’s game there are still 14-games to play before they can rest.
Now this is where Raptors coach Dwane Casey has to do his best coaching job to help his team “keep their eye on the prize” so to speak. Keep the team focused and keep a little midseason funk from turning into a long losing streak.
Casey knows where the problem is.
“Right now we’re going through maybe a week of bad offensive shooting,” Casey said on Friday about how the last week went. “Against it still says nothing about your defense. That’s when your defense has to pick back up. Your defense has to carry you until your offense comes back around. You go through that during the season. The most important thing is we stay together, stay positive. Everybody goes through it. It’s not an excuse. We have to fight our way out of it. It’s up to us.”
Casey hit the nail on the head in his comments that everybody goes through this. Every team in the NBA goes through a cold streak during the season regardless if they are playoff contender or not.
If talk to the coaches of the other 29-teams in the NBA they will all tell you that, yah my team is starting to think about the break coming up and I have to work harder to keep them focused.
Just like school kids waiting for the winter break to come and week away from school. NBA players are no different.
The Raptors are going through their own January blahs right now. This is a very focused group of players in their locker room and the leadership in their will not let this slump fester.
So don’t panic Raptors nation.Their body of work over the last two seasons have shown that there is too much talent on this team for it to last long. With five of their next six games at the Air Canada Centre, things should turn around quick.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.