3 In the Key – Toronto Raptors Game Day Preview vs. New York

Things didn't work out so well in G State or Boston but can the former first-rounder find new life in TO?

Things didn't work out so well in G State or Boston but can the former first-rounder find new life in TO?

God, I hate doing previews after trade deadline.

I mean, there was a lot to say after the Raptors finally made their big trade and brought Marion in, but now New York goes and changes half their club!

Ok not half the club but how do you evaluate either team's schemes?

Heck, how can I even figure out the rosters and the line ups?

Toronto of course made an addition to their club just before the trade deadline yesterday when they shipped out Will Solomon in a 3-way trade with the Celtics and Kings and acquired former Bradley Brave, Patrick O'Bryant.

For those not familiar with the 7-footer, I'll let Franchise give his thoughts:

O'Bryant was a sleeper from the Missouri Valley Conference in college. It wasn't really until mid-way through his sophomore season when several outstanding rebounding and shot-blocking performances put him on the map. He never had much of an offensive game, but by the 2006 draft (he was selected 8 picks after Andrea Bargnani) he was viewed as the top center prospect and was selected by the Golden State Warriors.

Unfortunately he had a tough time getting much of a look, and considering he needed to add strength and size, he eventually was discarded as the Warriors were in the midst of a veteran-laded suprising Western Conference playoff run.

He showed enough for the Celtics to take a flyer on him but again this season has had a tough time making his mark.

Can he do it in Toronto?

I'm not sure. I liked O'Bryant as a shot-blocker in the NCAA but was never sure just how effective he'd be in the league based on his lack of strength and thin frame. Raptors' fans aren't going to want to hear this but he also had the dreaded "soft" label at Bradley, and would disappear in games from time to time.

However considering Solomon was probably never going to play another minute, this is one of those "Hoffa" deals for BC; exchange a player who is of no use for someone who at least might be down the road. As we've seen with "bigs," you just never know when they're suddenly going to "get it" so it's really a win-win situation by removing Solomon and acquiring Bryant.

We're not sure which number O'Bryant will be wearing tonight or if he'll get any burn at all. What we do know is that Toronto is going to need all the shot-blocking help they can get against the high-flying Knicks tonight.

On the one hand, the Raptors seem intent on playing a style that requires a high tempo and lots of ball movement. The team seems much better for it, but we've seen them try this before in the middle of the season and they just can't seem to maintain the pace for an entire game. A quarter here and there, yes, but none of the Raptors are conditioned in a way to do such a thing. Toss in a shortened bench, and I really questioned Triano's decision.

I mean, how do you play high tempo and only score 76 points?

The good thing is that Bosh is back in the lineup, but just like Jose, I'm not sure Chris is back at 100%. Yesterday at practice he claimed it was the "healthiest he's felt in a long time" so who knows.

So here we go, with a final attempt at pushing for a playoff spot. It'll start with this home-and-home and lead into a whole month or so of "must win" games. But more importantly, these final months have to be used to determine Marion's worth to the team as well as any off-season moves Colangelo absolutely must make. The Raptors, as they are, have a fragile psyche which won't be fixed overnight. But they have to take steps towards that goal. Just like a few years ago, the Raptors have to remember the attitude of winning and that winning is a state of mind. Re-establishing a culture of winning is a long process and it will be interesting to see the Raptors climb back up into that mentality. Anyone without such a mentality has to be jettisoned over the summer.

But it all starts with the Knickerbockers. In Madison Square Garden, the Raptors will be facing a newly put together Knicks team that will be looking to establish themselves. The Raptors will be looking to establish themselves using these three keys:

1) Push the Pace When Possible -

The difference between smart and reckless is usually the difference between being confident and rushed. The Raptors, when playing at a high speed, have to make mental adjustments. The natural propensity when playing at a high speed is to rush your shot, but in actuality, the key is to move quickly enough so you have more time to make informed decisions. It's not simply about moving fast whenever you can, but rather choosing your spots carefully and executing precisely. It will take some time, but rest assured, Shawn Marion has already begun to exert some impact on the Raptors by being a player who constantly cuts and is looking to make the smart play. The most important thing is for Toronto's point guards to make the necessary adjustments to accomodate this style and develop chemistry with Marion. Yes, with Will Solomon now off to Sacto, even Marcus Banks has to make adjustments.

The Raptors, therefore, have to control their bursts. Not every opportunity will be a fast break point and sometimes, the Raptors will have to slow down their pace and try not to get caught up in D'Antoni's running game. Toronto will not simply be able to out-run a team built on running. They have always been more San Antonio Spurs than Phoenix Suns even in their best of times, so pushing the pace in a controlled manner is essential.

2) Attack the Newbies -

If Chris Wilcox and Larry Hughes play in tonight's contest, the Raptors will have to look to use some screens to confuse both players who are coming in without a practice. Attacking a team's weakness has always been the key in sports, and the Raptors will have the benefit of having at least two practices and a game with their new players (outside of Patrick O'Bryant obviously.) Bargnani in particular will have to attack Wilcox aggressively, while Marion and Graham will have to manage Hughes and Harrington, both of whom can find their offense quite easily. If the Raptors can at least manage to rack up some fouls on the new guys, it should make their life easier.

3) Control New York's Guards -

Chris Duhon and Nate Robinson. Against this duo, the Raptors will be tested from both guard positions. The Knicks will be looking to attack the Raptors at their weakest point. If both Duhon and Robinson get into a groove early, the Raptors will find themselves in for a long night. Both guards are quick and are adept at slashing. In fact, you almost wish that Calderon was out of the line-up so that the more physical Banks or quicker Ukic would be able to put some more time in. I mean, if Calderon is largely ineffective I really think Triano should not hesitate to shut him down for the night and allow Parker, Banks, and Ukic some time to figure out the New York tandem. Personally, I've always been an advocate of setting some hard picks, but every time I call for it, the Raptors seem unable to do such a thing.

Whenever I watch the Raptors play at Madison Square Garden they seem bogged down in molasses. Everything seems slower, more methodical, and a lot more plodding. With the Knicks slowly reworking their team with an eye towards speed, the Raptors will have to be cautious about getting caught up in Mike D'Antoni's pace. Nate Robinson managed to score 32 points against the Spurs. These are not the same Knicks we've seen in years past. Instead, the Raptors will be facing the fourth highest scoring team in the NBA. Against a team like the Dinos who continually struggle to even make 90 points, tonight's match could still turn ugly, fast.

Therefore, the Raptors have to focus on their offense. I know Jack Armstrong continues to talk about focusing on the defensive end first, but at this point in the season, the offense is something that the Raptors have not focused a lot on. Against the Cavs, the Raptors managed to cause 20 turnovers! And yet, they still couldn't even manage 80 points. Those kinds of games are just simply unwatchable, and yet, we've seen more than our share this year.

Or at least we would if the games weren't on TSN2.

Thank god for corporate bureaucracy for saving my sanity.

Vicious D

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