"You are what your record is."
How many times have you heard that saying?
It's true, you can lose 50 games in a season and perhaps 30 of them came by 5 points or less, but the fact remains, you're still not a very good team, and you still lost 50 games regardless of how those losses came about.
That being said, even with a bad record (like Toronto's 2 and 8 start), it's still possible to see the upside in individual performances and with a win over Orlando and a close-fought loss to one of the NBA's supposed powerhouses in their last two matches, there's a lot to be encouraged by if you're a Raptors' fan.
As well, individually guys like DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems have played much better of late, and even some question mark types like Joey Dorsey and Julian Wright have turned in solid minutes.
The Wiz have been pretty bad so far this season having issues at both the offensive and defensive ends of the court, earning them a 28th and 20th mark league-wide in those areas respectively. John Wall has looked every part of the top pick overall and future franchise player, but he hasn't had much help as guys like Andre Blatche and JaVale McGee have been inconsistent at best, and the team is still waiting on guys like Yi Jianlian and Nick Young to bust out.
Factor in the drama that still surrounds Gilbert Arenas, and the fact that he's played much better without Wall, and it's enough to drive head coach Flip Saunders around the bend.
And that looks to be close to happening thanks to the news that Wall may not even play tonight due to an ankle sprain. He was seen hobbling around the Verizon Center yesterday on crutches so suddenly this looks like a much more arduous test for the Wiz than usual.
For the Raptors, this is a great opportunity to build some momentum as tomorrow night they face another team that's had a rough start, the Philadelphia 76ers. Coming off two solid performances it would be a huge letdown to drop these next two.
Here's our keys to ensure that doesn't happen starting tonight:
1) Own the paint. One of the reasons the Wizards are struggling so much right now is because of their play on the inside. Sure guys like Wall and Thornton have been very effective in the backcourt, but the team has the 4th worst rebounding rate in the league and struggles on the interior in terms of post-play.
That's one problem Toronto hasn't had this season.
The Raps are the 5th best club league-wide in terms of rebounding rate, and even if Reggie Evans isn't a go tonight (although it sounds like he'll play), guys like Dorsey and Amir Johnson have a chance to do some major damage.
This goes double for Andrea Bargnani. JaVale McGee might be one of the league's best shot-blockers, but he's still extremely thin and doesn't hold his ground well on against individual post-ups. If he gets in foul trouble, the Wiz will have to turn to Hilton Armstrong and Hamady Ndiaye.
2) Keep possession. Both the Wizards and Raptors play at about the same pace averaging around 98 possessions a game. Without Wall, I expect this to slow down by a good margin, so there might be a slight opportunity for the Raps to get out in transition and get some easy baskets.
More importantly though, the Raptors need to prevent easy run-outs by the Wizards, who have the athletes to cause major trouble for the Raps shaky transition D. This means limiting turnovers, something Toronto did a much better job of in their last two games then they have as a whole on the season.
They have the second highest turnover rate in the league per game so again, if Toronto can keep possession this is an area the Dinos can really take advantage of.
3) Win the battle at the 2. If Wall can't go, the Wizards will likely start Kirk Hinrich at the 1 but fans should see lots of Gilbert Arenas too, either at the 1 or flanking Hinrich at the 2. Arenas (as my fantasy team can attest to) hasn't been great so far this year but he can still get the job done as he showed last Saturday.
He had 30 points including seven 3's in the Wizards' loss to the Bulls, and was his old unstoppable self. Arenas has killed the Raps in the past and it's crucial tonight that Toronto try and keep him out of the game as much as possible.
On the flip side, I want to see more DeMar.
DeRozan may inherit the duties of shadowing Arenas but just as important as it will be to slow down the man formerly known as Agent Zero, it's equally crucial that DeRozan be one of the Raps' top offensive options on the night. I expect Andrea Bargnani to get his 20 or so points, but who knows how many of those will come only in the first half so DeRozan needs to be that consistent scoring threat all game long.