Luckily, the Raptors have shown that steps have been taken. We've seen Jermaine O'Neal establish himself as a center that the Raptors can truly rely on, and during some games like the Sacremento one, the Raps played some effective defense in end of game situations.
Yup, the Raptors losses almost cancel out those positives, but we're starting to see a pattern.
Blown leads? We've still seen them, but they don't let it them go nearly as fast as earlier in the year.
Terrible rebounding? Still around the corner, and most often it's still mainly from the wing positions.
Ineffective secondary players? Got a whole logjam of those.
But at the end of the day, the Raptors have an opportunity to go 3-3 on this road trip and while no one will be planning parades, it's the start of showing something more consistent from the team.
Perhaps better production from the roster gives Bryan Colangelo a better bargaining position should he decide to pull the trigger on a move. With each passing day, I grow more confident in the fact that no one in the Raptors management is panicing as was suggested a week ago by commentators such as Sam Smith. After all, the worst decisions are made with the pressure and fear to do something drastic in the face of difficulties. I'm confident that Bryan Colangelo is well aware of this fact - even if making a deal down the road with Golden State is looking increasingly more difficult thanks to the club's fractured management situation.
With already one win against the Warriors under their belt, the Raptors need to make sure that they take it to Golden State on their home court. To reach that elusive .500 level on this road trip, the Raptors will have to accomplish the following:
1) Make Offense Difficult for the Warriors -
Let's face it, the Warriors are an offensive juggernaut. Second in points per game just behind the Lakers, the Warriors look to get some balanced scoring within their free-flowing offense. Don Nelson has always been a coach that emphasized movement and shooting 3's, so the Raptors have to be extremely careful about sticking with their man. Guys like Moon cannot slack defensively, or the Warriors will simply bury the Dinos. Big guys like O'Neal and Bosh cannot be afraid of leaving the paint to cover their man with an outside shot. And against the speed of the Warriors, Toronto will need to switch off their men intelligently as well as use their superior size in the post to make sure the Warriors have limited second-chance points.
2) Execute Your Own Offense -
Dry spells just won't be acceptable as the Raptors are just not a good enough defensive team to keep the Warriors from scoring the entire game. With the Warriors not able to play any kind of defense against their opponents, Toronto cannot allow for a similar second half as they had against Portland two days ago. Against a team with a weak interior like the Warriors, the Raptors have to continue to pound the paint in order to make sure the Warriors are forced to double team in the post. Afterwards, it'll be up to Jason Kapono, Joey Graham, and Anthony Parker to find their range so that the pressure will not rest squarely on Bosh, O'Neal, and Bargnani to score.
3) Get that .500 -
The motivation should be there. A blown opportunity against Oklahoma can be erased so long as the Raptors remain focused and attentive to Jay Triano's game plan. The Raptors have beat the Warriors once this year, so history favours them right now. But most importantly, that need to be at least .500 or better has to come with each little set of games, starting with this West Coast trip. The Raptors can then start thinking about putting winning records in the books and clawing their way back up to .500 for their overall record. Unlike most other years, January will not be a month of pushovers, so the Dinos need to take advantage of every opportunity they have, especially against the weaker opponents in the league.
I believe that the Raptors have a great chance to win this game. Rebounding for the Warriors has not exactly been a strong suit (-4 RPG) and so, the Raptors must merely get adequate or average rebounding production from their wings to limit opportunities for the Warriors to make easy baskets. Toss in a back-to-back, and the Raptors should have the energy advantage to subdue the Warriors. However, you can never count out a hot shooting team, and the Warriors can always beat the best in the NBA just by sheer volume of 3-pointers taken without hesitation.
The Raptors need this win if only to merely establish in their own minds that it's possible for them to right the ship after a horrible set of losses. No, it's not the situation of an elite team, but Triano and his club have to fix things gradually. It's been about a month since I've called for patience so that Triano can establish himself as a head coach, and I believe we are starting to see the fruits of his labour.