Ahead of the second chapter of a staggered, seven-game series that will play just three contests this week, getting DeMar DeRozan back into the offensive focus after a disappointing playoff debut, putting a halt to Joe Johnson‘s domination of the defense and finding a way to get at least some scoring from both Terrence Ross and Amir Johnson has to be a priorities for the Toronto Raptors.
But what happens off the court always adds fuel to the fire, and more often than not influences the opinions of everyone involved — sometimes gaining even more attention than the actual games.
Prior to Saturday’s series-opening loss, the Raptors dove head-first into the war of words with their opponents when GM Masai Ujiri used an expletive to describe his passionate dislike of the Brooklyn Nets, and whether intentional or not, it was exactly the type of comment that gets used to motivate the opposition.
In all rivalries, participants from both sides gain ammunition to launch at the other from a variety of excitable sources, but when facing a team centered in one of the largest markets on the planet with an understandably ferocious sports media, you have to be prepared to live under the microscope for the duration of the series. And under the microscope is where Ujiri’s comment will remain, along with anything else that originates from Toronto going forward.
As an example of just how big Saturday’s pre-game remarks have gotten, Monday’s edition of ESPN’s ”Around The Horn” used Ujiri’s mini-rant as a talking point, while Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon had it listed as the third topic of ”Pardon The Interruption” on the same network.
In the other notable Canadian-based assault on the Nets over the weekend, the front page of Saturday’s Toronto Sun featured a headline that read ”Raptors vs. Dinosaurs”, in reference to Brooklyn’s aging core group of players.
And in the same way that Ujiri’s comments spread through the media like wildfire, the Sun’s clever front page headline was not only mentioned by ESPN on Twitter, but also received praise from the staff at the New York Daily News, who were visibly amused with the characterization and indirectly expressed their collective desire to see more of the same in the near future.
Only a year ago, the Raptors were arguably one of the league’s most unpopular franchises in terms of fans outside of their home city, and other than DeRozan and Rudy Gay, the majority of basketball fans struggled to name a single player on the roster.
Now, Canada’s lone NBA franchise is the subject of everyday banter throughout the sports media, and unless the Toronto Blue Jays can pull off the unexpected, the Raptors are shouldering the city’s lone shot at playoff success in 2014.