by Marcel Mutoni

The clock moved forward by an hour today, indicating that spring is almost here. I’m not entirely convinced though, seeing as how there was so much snowfall this weekend that I could not take two steps outside without my jeans getting completely soaked by the slush.

My cell phone (which also serves as my alarm clock) did not automatically adjust its clock, and had it not been for an early morning call, I would have slept through the entire afternoon, thus missing the game.

Pregame:

-Francisco Elson is all alone in the Seattle locker room and he has the look of someone who just found that his dog got run over by a car. When a reporter attempts to engage him in conversation, he just stares out into space and completely ignores the guy. I’m only guessing here, but I’d bet that media training wasn’t Francisco’s favorite aspect of his rookie orientation.

-Earl Watson walks into the room and says to no one in particular, “See the UCLA win last night?”

-Jeff Green tells someone from one of the local NBA shows that fellow rookie Kevin Durant is a future Hall of Famer. Jesus, talk about putting pressure on a guy.

-Speaking of KD, I got a chance to speak to him one-on-one for a few minutes, and dude was really laid back and forthcoming. Kevin says that the possibility of moving to Oklahoma City is in the back of everyone’s mind, but that he tries not to worry about it too much.

-According to Durant, this is the first time he’s played an NBA game this early (1PM), and that it feels a little strange. With much of the Eastern seaboard blanketed by snow, he’s also never seen this much of the white stuff in his life.

-Kevin tells me that his life isn’t glamorous enough to start a blog, and that he could never keep up with Gilbert Arenas and the like.

-You hear a lot about how pro athletes need to watch what they eat and take care of their bodies. And it makes a lot of sense. Durant, however, is the only one who should be eating wrong. To see his rail-thin frame in person is pretty jarring, and I’m surprised that one of his drives to the hoop hasn’t resulted in him getting broken in half. After our chat, I considered running outside and picking him up a cheeseburger.

-Linkstigator Nick Collison tells me that he enjoys the early afternoon games because it frees up the rest of the day to do other things.

-When I tell him that I write for SLAM, he mentions that Lang recently sent him a text message telling him about some strange Japanese gameshow called Ninja Warrior. Nick had no clue what Lang was talking about.

(Collison assures me that he no longer watches The Hills, but is really into 30 Rock and can’t wait until tonight’s series finale of The Wire. Nick considers the gritty drama to be the greatest television show ever made, and I can’t say that I disagree.)

-The press corners PJ Carlesimo for a good ten minutes, and he’s in a talkative mood. According to the veteran coach, Toronto can play against anyone in the West. Uh, what?!

-When a reporter asks PJ if it’s been a good learning experience for his young ballclub to play in such a highly competitive conference this season, Carlesimo looks the guy in the eye and flatly responds, “NO!”

(With everyone still laughing, the coach adds that there’s not a whole lot to learn when you’re getting your head knocked off every night. I wonder if he always has such a sunny outlook on life and basketball…)

-Over on the Toronto side, Sam Mitchell, dressed in athletic shorts and a t-shirt, is chatting up a couple of writers and discussing the battle between Hillary and Obama to win the Democratic Party’s nomination. He’s really into it, and is spouting off all kinds of stats and percentages.

-Politics are a popular topic for the Raptors today, as I find Jose Calderon discussing some big election that’s taking place in Spain today.

(What, did everyone wake up to “Meet the Press” this morning or something?)

-Jamario Moon has taped his All-Star Weekend plaque next to the team-sanctioned one above his locker. It appears that someone enjoyed their experience in New Orleans.

-In the hallway outside the Toronto locker room, Raptors GM Bryan “Dapper Dan” Colangelo is holding court with me and three of the local writers. As we discuss some of the big trades that went down this season, Primoz Brezec walks by and he is completely drenched in sweat from the pregame warmup.

(As Brezec passes our group, he raps (loudly), “She said she wants a hood ni**a!” We all stare at each other for a few seconds trying to decipher what just happened, leading to Colangelo apologizing for the Slovenian’s gangsta ways, and everyone doubling over in laughter.)

-It should not surprise you to discover that Primoz instantly became my favorite human being on the planet following that little outburst.

-Colangelo, by the way, made it explicitly clear that our chat was strictly off the record. But know this: In those five minutes or so that we spoke, I learned more about the NBA and some of the juicy League wide back-office politics than I could have ever hoped to glean in a lifetime of following and covering the sport. Really eye-opening stuff.

(I wish I could say more, I really do, but I’m pretty sure it would result in me never being allowed to step foot inside the ACC again.)

-As I make my way towards the press box, the elevator stops to pick up some fans heading to their seats. A balding middle-aged guy and his son hop on and when the man sees my media credential, he tells the young boy that he’s too cheap to pick up SLAM and instead reads it in the aisles at Chapters. When I tell him that I’m disappointed to hear this, he sheepishly claims that all of his money goes towards feeding the kid. Excuses, excuses.

-During pregame warmups, Primoz Brezec is shown on the Jumbotron, and seconds later, a pass hits him square in the face. Uh, might want to wake up, Primoz.

First Q:

-Andrea Bargnani knocks in the game’s first shot. When Andrea catches the ball, he never brings it below his waste and seems to already be in his shooting form as soon as the pill arrives. Couple that with his size and it’s easy to tell why his jumper almost never gets blocked.

-Durant comes out shooting, and shooting well. A mid-range jumper and a soft floater in the lane gets Seattle’s offense going.

-This being an afternoon affair, the crowd is understandably late-arriving and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be a sellout.

-Those who are here get a kick out an alley oop from Earl Watson to a skying Kevin Durant. Seattle up 20-14 midway through the 1st.

-Even though the injured Chris Bosh is nowhere to be seen, his very pretty girlfriend is sitting in her customary courtside seat. She was also here on Friday night. Gotta support the team, you know?

-Primoz Brezec gets a huge hand when he checks into the game with 2 minutes remaining in the opening quarter. Yup, he’s a fan fave.

-PJ Carlesimo comes out all the way to halfcourt (and actually steps on the court) to give Earl Watson an earful about properly running the offense. The man is intense. And by intense, I mean he’s insufferable. I’m not saying that I condone what Latrell did, but I can understand.

-Speaking of physical assault, Chris Wilcox just attacked the rim on a dunk to give Seattle a 31-24 lead. He cocked his arm way back on that one, and Jamario Moon wisely stepped out of the way.

Second Q:

-It’s all Seattle here in the early going. A deft behind the back dribble by Luke Ridnour to elude TJ Ford leads to an easy dunk for Nick Collison. Two plays later, Collison drops in a long fadeaway over a double team to push Seattle’s lead up to 39-28.

(I’m not sure what’s more impressive. The fact that Nick knocked down such a tough shot, or that he was double teamed.)

-Out of a timeout, the Raptors go on a run to cut the lead to four, and the guys on the bench are all standing and shouting. The crowd is slowly getting into it, too.

-Damien Wilkins, though, has other ideas. He’s hitting jumpers from all over the place and no one can seem to stay in front of him. Which is kind of a strange thing to say, because, well, he’s Damien Freaking Wilkins.

-TJ Ford is no longer the player he used to be. His drives to the hoop are uncertain and tentative, and often result in a miss or a block. Midway through the quarter, Mitchell takes him out of the game and he gingerly makes his way back to the bench clutching his left side like an old man. It’s actually kind of heartbreaking to witness.

-Kris Humphries is single-handedly keeping the Raptors in the game, and his reverse layup cuts the Seattle lead to four with about a minute remaining in the half.

Sonics 58 – Raptors 54 at the Half.

Third Q:

-I don’t know what the Sonics ate or drank at halftime, because they’re completely asleep out there and Toronto has taken advantage. Anthony Parker’s driving layup gives the home side a two-point lead.

-Chris Wilcox is still angry at the rim. I think it cheated on him.

(He punishes it for the second time this afternoon with another monster throwdown. Moments later, he curls in for a much softer dunk to give Seattle the lead back.)

-Toronto, which is about to head out for an ominous-looking five game road swing out West, is playing like a desperate group of people. And they should be. Some gorgeous ball movement result in an open three for Anthony Parker and a six point lead midway through the quarter.

-To show that they’re not messing around, Kevin Durant gets his garbage completely eviscerated by Jamario Moon forcing a shot-clock violation. Moon then comes on the other end and hits a pretty fade in the lane.

-The artist formerly known as TJ Ford finally gets a layup to drop, and Toronto takes an 89-79 lead into the fourth.

Fourth Q:

-TJ tries to save a ball going out of bounds, and he crashes to the floor, leading to all of the Toronto coaches springing to their feet to see if he’s OK. Ford, wincing, slowly gets up and appears to be fine. The crowd – which had been holding its collective breath – gives him a nice hand.

-With Bosh in street clothes, Wilcox is having a grand old time out there, and throwing down dunks with extreme prejudice. During one particularly vicious drive, Kris Humpries nearly gets his arm torn off as he tries to block a Wilcox dunk attempt. Thankfully for Humpries, it only results in a trip to the line for the Seattle big.

-Bargnani wets a three and it gives Toronto a 101-86 lead. It’s hard to tell if the crowd is happier about the comfortable lead, or the fact that they’re all getting free pizza as a result of the team breaking the 100-point barrier. Actually, I’m pretty sure they’re happier about the pizza. Gluttonous bastards.

-You can tell it’s Toronto’s day because Rasho Nesterovic just dunked on someone. That or it’s a sign of The Apocalypse.

-Try as they might, Seattle never seriously threatens to make a game of it in the fourth, and the fans know it. Most of the crowd begins heading for the exists with about two minutes remaining. Final score: Raptors 114 – Sonics 106.

Postgame:

-Sam Mitchell, as you might imagine, is in a great mood following the victory. He begins busting reporters’ balls during his postgame chat. Sam asks why everyone is so quiet, and wonders if they’re all upset that Toronto won since it gives them less questions to ask.

-When picking on one of the writers, a pleasantly rotund fella with greying hair, he asks him if he’s Canadian or American. Before the poor guy can answer, someone from the back of the room pipes up and says that he’s neither, since he’s from Hamilton. This is uproariously funny if you live in Ontario; you’ll just have to take my word for it.

-In the Toronto locker room, I ask Jamario Moon about the plaque from All-Star Weekend above his locker, and he proceeds to proudly show me a second plaque that he has stashed away inside the little stall. Moon also says that he’d love to give the Dunk Contest another shot should the League ask him to participate again.

-Primoz Brezec emerges from the showers and we begin discussing music for a little bit. He tells me that he usually listens to DMX, T.I. and … Slovenian hip hop (!!!) to get himself pumped up before games. When I confess that I had no idea that such a thing as Slovenian hip hop existed, he claims that it’s actually pretty good.

-Primoz, who is exceedingly nice and accommodating, says that it’s great having a fellow countryman (Rasho Nesterovic) on the team.

(I was disappointed, however, to discover that Primoz and Rasho don’t make fun of their teammates (behind their backs) in Slovenian.)

-Before heading out of the ACC and walking over to Union Station to catch my train back to Ottawa, one of the Raptors tells the PR guy that he can’t stick around for the media since he has yet to pack for the upcoming five-game road trip. The PR guy tells him that the bus to the airport leaves in less than an hour and shakes his head in disbelief.

-The insanely tough West Coast swing – made tougher by the possibility that Bosh might not suit up at all – has yet to begin, and screwups are already happening.