This is a must win game.
You will hear this for every Toronto Raptors game going forward until this team is either (a) mathematically eliminated from the post-season or (b) shock many and secure a playoff spot late in the season. It has gotten to the point where there really is no margin for error. This team is 5.5 games out of the eight spot.
If the Raptors do want to make the post-season they absolutely must beat teams like the Minnesota Timberwolves. There are no ifs, ands or buts allowed.
The question I have at this point is whether we should want this team to make the playoffs at all. Is the goal actually to grab the eighth seed and then get absolutely hammered by the Cavs (or maybe the Celts)? Just the thought of that is enough for me to hope that the Raps come up short and frankly I think they will.
It actually wouldn’t surprise me to see the Raps, despite the importance of this game, come out flat and end up in a battle with the greatly undermanned Wolves team. In fact I expect it.
The Raps have done little this season to make me believe they will do what they need to. I just don’t trust them.
On paper the Raps should take care of business and after Sunday’s solid performance things seem to point towards a Raptors W. Shawn Marion is slowly getting acclimatized to his new mates (and perhaps more importantly vice-versa) and CB4 is starting to get his legs. Meanwhile on the flip side the Wolves are 2-8 in their last ten and clearly miss their franchise guy Al Jefferson.
Why then would I not bet on this game to save my life? Every time I think the Raps are starting to turn it around they lay a stinker and I don’t think anyone would be surprised if they did tonight.
I guess that is what will make me watch this match-up. I am interested to see what the Raps do. Will they take care of business or will it be another train wreck? In either case it will be hard to look away. It’s the nature of my relationship with this Raptors squad. I can’t help but keep coming back for more. It has really become the equivalent of an emotionally abusive relationship.
In order for the Raps to secure the W they will need to focus on the following:
1. Play Hard from the Tip – I think we will learn all we need to know about the outcome of the game in the first five minutes. Which Raptors squad will show up? The team that threw in the towel before the game even started like Friday night or the one that got after it on Sunday? If it is the former don’t count out the Wolves despite their best offensive player being Ryan Gomes.
2. Attack the Rim – The Raps need to keep three words in their mind right from the opening tip. Attack, attack, attack! It is pretty obvious that Shawn Marion is willing to attack the opposing team’s defense but will anyone else join him? There is no reason why CB4, Bargs, Parker and Graham can’t attack the rim at will. The Wolves are small up front and don’t have a shot blocker. The Raps have to take advantage, but again will they? The last time these teams met up the Raps were happy to settle for jumpers for most of the game. They can’t do that this time around. Despite the injuries the Wolves did push the Lakers to the brink a few short nights ago.
3. Close Out – Without Al Jeff the Wolves are relying heavily on the three point shot. In their last game against the Lakers the Wolves starting five took 23 attempts from beyond the arc and hit 9 of them. The Raps defenders must get a hand up and force these guys to put the ball on the floor. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to see guys like Mike Miller and Randy Foye light it up and keep the Wolves in the game.
Which version of the Raps will show-up tonight?