3 in the Key – Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview vs. Cavs

Oh the things you can learn from the Sports Pack.

For instance, did you know that in both the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons, Chris Bosh has averaged 21 points and 10.5 rebounds against the Cavs?

Ok...maybe you did.

But did you know that for the Cavs’ "Guys Night Out" promotion, Cleveland is giving out a Cavs Girls Calendar in addition to the usual tickets to the game, drinks and food?

Bet not.

It’s the Toronto Raptors against the Cleveland Cavaliers this afternoon in a match that pits two teams hovering around the .500 mark in the East and fighting for playoff positioning.

With a win over the Atlanta Hawks last night the New Jersey Nets have pulled even with the Raptors in the Atlantic with a record of 17 and 16 and besides the Knicks, the division is starting to shape up like many had predicted prior to the season. It should be a tough battle from here on out for seeding and the Raptors need to get on a roll.

Hopefully that starts today with a win over the Cavs.

Cleveland looks to be getting their mojo back now with Anderson Varejao and Sasha Pavlovic in the fold, and besides the brick houses being build in Akron by Larry Hughes, the offense under coach Mike Brown has improved as well.

"See, I CAN hit a jump-shot Lebron"

The Raptors on the other hand are coming off a loss to the Pistons and looking to take their aggression out on someone.

I actually caught the Pistons/Celtics game last night and it just beat into my head how superior these two teams are from the rest of the conference. You get the feeling watching them that they could play 20 games and the end result would be 10 wins for each. However I’m going to say right now that I think the Celtics have the advantage in the long run. Until Jason Maxiell develops a consistent back-to-the-basket game, the Pistons lack interior scoring and as those who watched last night saw, Detroit is too reliant on the jump shot. You could argue that Chauncey Billups is the Pistons’ best post-up player as Rasheed Wallace seems to prefer to spend more time on the perimeter these days.

So if Detroit and Boston are the cream of the crop in the East, who’s next?

I’d love to say Toronto, but the Raptors need to prove themselves first and a win over the Cavs, one of their main competitors on the next tier, would be a great start. Let’s get to the keys:

1) Make Lebron a scorer. King James was absent the last time these teams met but in their first match Lebron terrorized the Raptors by breaking down the defence and finding open gunners for easy 3-point looks. Well the good news is that one of those gunners, Damon Jones, is indefinitely benched for refusing to enter a game in garbage time last week. The bad news is the Cavs still have long-range weapons like Daniel Gibson and now Sasha Pavlovic who can get it done. The Raptors probably won’t mind if Lebron gets 50 but his team-mates barely touch the rock. However a 30, 12 and 10 night for James could prove deadly as it means getting the rest of the Cavs involved on O. Anthony Parker will probably draw the assignment on Lebron and hopefully he does a better job than he did on Friday against Rip Hamilton. I’d like to see Carlos Delfino get some time as well and perhaps a cameo from Joey Graham.

2) Dominate the paint. The Cavs have always given Toronto problems on the inside. Between the size of Gooden and Big Z, and Lebron’s ability to slash to the basket, the Raptors have had their hands full. Add on a now "in-game-shape" Sideshow Varejao and Andrea Bargnani instead of Rasho manning the 5, and it could be a long night for the Raps in this area. Cleveland is the seventh best rebounding team in the league so Toronto not only needs to box out, but on the opposing end, Chris Bosh and co. must make a concerted effort to attack the rim and get the Cavs’ "bigs" in foul trouble. Cleveland is one of the worst offensive teams in the league so the Raptors need to make them into a jump-shooting club and prevent easy put-backs.

3) Get that ball moving. The Cavs are a solid defensive club so the Raptors can’t rely on the long-range bomb all night. Good ball movement and offensive execution is essential for the Raptors, who’ve had problems in this area of late. This means getting Bargs going early and hopefully getting a much bigger contribution from the bench. As mentioned, Cleveland is not a great scoring team and average only 19 assists a game. If the Raptors can get production from both the starters and the bench in this department, it should be a huge advantage and may force Lebron into trying to do too much himself in terms of carrying the scoring load.

FRANCHISE

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