It's not often that an NBA team gets four full days off between games like the Raptors did this week.
It couldn't have come at a better time.
Over the course of the last four days the sting from the debaucle in Indiana has diminished (helped in part by the Suns having a similar meltdown in Indiana shortly thereafter), and this break has given the Raps the rare opportunity to work out some kinks and refine their approach mid-season, in particular on the defensive end. The break is well deserved considering the teams schedule since the opening tip.
The break should also have provided the team a chance to get some much needed rest. We all know how much fatigue had to do with the loss to the Pacers. We were told a thousand times.
Simply put, there is no reason why the Raps shouldn't come out on Friday full of energy and execute their game-plan to perfection. If all goes well they will be back to .500 and will have beaten an Atlantic Division rival that has played some of its best basketball as of late.
Beating successful against your division opponents is essential for a successfull season. The Raptors still have to play the Knickerbockers four times this season, two of those games coming this month. Getting three or four wins against the Knicks this season would go a long way to helping secure that much desired playoff spot.
The Knicks are, much to the surprise of many, not a guaranteed win, despite the current lack of superstar talent. Players like David Lee, Wilson Chandler and second year sensation Danilo Gallinari are all excelling in Coach Mike D'Antoni's system. Hell, even Jared Jefferies is contributing along with once retired Jonathan Bender.
Meanwhile players who don't fit D'Antoni's up-tempo style are having a difficult time getting limited playing time, if any. More recognizable names like Eddy Curry, Larry Hughes and Darko Milicic are sitting on the sidelines despite the size of their salaries. You either play the way D'Antoni wants or you simply don't play at all.
I wonder if Triano would ever consider a similar approach if Hedo continues to play like a man who does nothing but sit on his couch eating Pizza Pizza and drinking Sprite.
That brings us to tonight's three keys to the game:
1. Improved Defense: To get a win the Raps have to play better defense than they did in the second half against Indiana. When matched-up against the team like the Knicks everyone on the floor needs to be on the same page and they must communicate. Leaving guys open for easy lay-ups or open three's is just a recipe for disaster no matter who the opponent. It's even more important when facing one of the league's best three-point shooters in Gallinari and a beast in and around the paint in David Lee. With the rest the Raps have gotten this week there is no reason for them not to show an improvement on this side of the ball.
2. Shot Selection: There were moments in the Indiana game where I was just left baffled by how many jump-shots the Raps settled for, despite having Indiana in foul trouble for the majority of the night. The Knicks would love it if the Raps settled tonight. They don't have a true defensive presence in the paint and they are not exactly known for their stellar D. The Raps have to attack the rim relentlessly. They need to work the ball from the inside out. I want to see at least three DeRozan jams.
3. Feed the Bigs: This ties in nicely with key No.2. If the Raps want to win they need monster nights from Bosh and Bargnani. Look for Bosh to dominate as he tries to impress what one day could be his home crowd. Look for Bargnani to rebound after a lack-luster offensive performance in the last game. Most of all look for Bosh and Bargs to get the ball in the paint. No-one on the Knicks can defend either of these two guys on the blocks. This has to be offensive strategy one, two and three. Strategy four is go back to strategy one.
No excuses tonight. The Raps need to come out with a workman like attitude and get it done.