3 In the Key – Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview vs. Nets

As many readers may know, I’m a huge James Bond fan.

Always have been, as far as I can remember, with my favourites being Thunderball, Dr. No and surprisingly, Tomorrow Never Dies.

So I was very interested when the producers decided to go in a different direction with the franchise, toning down the gadgets and fantasy element and bringing in Daniel Craig as a grittier, less flashy version of 007.

I thought the results were mixed with Casino Royale.

It dragged a bit, and I thought it felt more like another in the "Bourne" series than a Bond movie. No traditional "Bondisms" were really present and afterwards, I came out of the theatre thinking "that could have been any spy-action-type movie!"

Therefore with the release of the second in the Craig series, "Quantum of Solace," I was skeptical to say the least. My hope was that they’d further develop Craig’s character and add in more of the classic Bond elements, however after seeing the critics reviews’, I wondered whether the producers had in effect gone in a completely other direction.

So last night was D Day as I finally got to see the film.

For the first bit, my skepticism was rewarded. The film looked to be even more of a Bourne rip-off and about a half hour in my head was swimming with the plot, which was jumping around more than your average Guy Ritchie movie.

However things started to turn around after that, and by the film’s conclusion, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. It wasn’t perfect (the art-house style cinematography was a bit much at times), but it was a vast improvement over the last few Pierce Brosnan renditions and a zillion times better than most of the Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton flicks.

On my way home after the movie, I started to think about series’ like the Bond, and how sometimes a one-off movie by itself is not enough to determine the fate of the entire franchise. It takes time to build chemistry between characters, and sometimes it takes a movie or two to start to really appreciate the direction that things are going.

These thoughts were still on my mind when I started penning this morning’s preview and I couldn’t help but see some parallels between my experience with Bond, and this year’s version of our Toronto Raptors. The team is still trying to figure out rotations, how to effectively use its newfound post-presence, and various other important in-game elements.

And as many posted on the site yesterday, at times we as fans are pretty hard on the team, especially because looking at the big picture, the team is still above .500 and has played some tough matches, many of these on the road. Like Quantum of Solace and the following "nouveau Bond" films, it’s the next set of games for the Raptors that could really set the tone going forward. The Nets tonight, the Bobcats Wednesday and the Hawks a week from today are all winnable games and the rematch with the Celtics Sunday afternoon should be a solid contest as well.

If Toronto can take 3 of 4 it would be huge because after the Atlanta match, things get a little tricky. Toronto travels out west to take on the Nuggets and Jazz, and then returns to welcome the Blazers before heading to Cleveland to take on the Cavs. That’s four very tough games so getting a solid cushion of wins over the next week is paramount.

So let’s start with the Nets tonight:

1) Get to the rim.

The Nets are currently one of the worst defensive teams in the league. They are giving up almost 102 points per game on average and allowing opponents to shoot 45 per cent from the field. However the stat that really sticks out is 32.2, as in the average number of trips opponents are making to the free-throw line against New Jersey. A lot of this could be chalked up to the Nets inexperience, they are one of the youngest teams in the league, so tonight I’m hoping to see Toronto take advantage of this and drive aggressively to the rim. Bosh and O’Neal themselves should be good for close to 20 trips so as long as others like Bargnani, Parker and Calderon are aggressive, this should give the Dinos a huge advantage.

2) Take advantage of Bosh, O’Neal and Bargnani.

Toronto had to smile when looking at match-ups tonight as CB4, JO and Bargs will probably be guarded by the trio of Brook Lopez, Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons. On each possession, whether it be Jose, Roko or Will, the ball NEEDS to go into one of these three. Bosh should especially have his way with Jianlian and double teams will be inevitable. That means that Toronto’s 3-point shooters should be cocked and loaded all night and this contest could be a great way for various players to break out of their recent shooting slumps.

3) Keep Harris and Carter from getting into the paint.

My biggest worry tonight believe it or not isn’t VC. Carter will undoubtedly get his, but with the constant heckling (let’s go ACC) I don’t expect him to put up huge numbers. However Devin Harris is another story. Harris has been gangbusters this year for the Nets and is averaging an unreal 23 points a game! He’s even had two plus 30 games so if Jose and co. don’t do a good job staying in front of him, he could easily replicate his previous feats. Harris is one of the quickest point guards in the league and the worry beyond keeping his penetration to a minimum is the wear and tear on Jose from chasing him around. I’m definitely not sure Will Solomon is the answer but perhaps using former Net Hasssan Adams on Harris at times might be an idea. Adams is familiar with Vince Carter as well so having a back-court of Jose and Hassan at times tonight might not be such a bad idea.

The one thing I don’t want to see is any zone defence to make up for Toronto’s "footspeed" deficiencies. The Nets are currently shooting 38 per cent from beyond the arc and are therefore one of the best long-range shooting teams in the league. The onus will be on Toronto’s individual defenders to stop the ball at the point of attack, rather than being forced into help situations thus leaving open 3-point shooters.

I think the Nets will keep this one interesting tonight but that in the end, the Raptors will walk away with the W thanks to O’Neal and Bosh. These two alone should make this game an easy win and others like Humphries and Bargnani should be able to have their way inside as well.

In addition, New Jersey is anything but deep with the likes of Trenton Hassell, Eduardo Najera and Stromile Swift coming off the pine, and therefore this game might represent Toronto’s best chance so far to get a full team effort and inspire some confidence amongst the ranks.

A loss of course means that Bryan Colangelo better get MI6 on the phone because if this team can’t beat the Nets, then he’s going to need to call in some major back-up.

FRANCHISE

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