First game after the big trade, and the Raptors come up against an opponent who they very well may play down to. The Philadelphia 76ers come into the ACC to face the surging Raptors as our hometown heroes seek to assimilate their new assets.
What a whirlwind ride for Raptors fans.
Just when you thought your team was all set in stone, along comes Bryan Colangelo with a major trade. The Raptors, displaying mental fortitude, soldiered on and beat the Celtics. Now, the Raptors have to figure out how to ease Leandro Barbosa back into the lineup and bring in Jerryd Bayless and Peja Stojakovic as well.
Luckily, our hometown boys had a few days off.
Yes, such is life in the NBA and there's already been countless evaluations of the deal, including from our own Franchise.
It comes down to a simple thing.
Whether there's actually a lockout or not, a piece with such a large expiring contract as Peja's becomes a lot more valuable. MLSE could just decide to let it expire so that they can keep the savings or they could pawn his contract off into a valuable piece from a cash-strapped team. But with Bryan Colangelo not even bothering to really sell Peja's skills and with Jerryd Bayless being touted as another "future piece", the real value for the Raptors has to be in the bottom line.
In my opinion though, these moves may not even do a heckuva lot to the Raptors' rotation.
For one, the Raptors seem intent on giving DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems, and Linas Kleiza plenty of room to operate. If the Raptors end up putting in Bayless, it will probably mean that Barbosa gets bumped into the wing rotation. On the other hand, if Barbosa is played as a backup point guard to Jose Calderon, Bayless may become the third string point guard and Peja can perhaps find some minutes in the wing rotation.
Whatever happens, at the very least, it leaves the Raptors with a lot of options.
In tonight's game though, I would like the Raptors to ease into those options. The Raptors right now have a great rhythm going with their current rotation and I would certainly be hesitant to mess around with it too much. It'll be up to Jay Triano to show restraint and to use what's worked for him so far while both Bayless and Stojakovic both catch up with what this team does. Against the 76ers, the Raptors have to simply keep things simple and they should come out with a win like they did a week ago. Here are tonight's keys.
1) Attack the Interior - I've never been sold on Elton Brand and after watching him continue to be a very awkward piece in the 76ers lineup, he's done little to change my perception that he's undersized and can be easily defended. Andrea Bargnani did a serviceable job on Brand despite letting him score 30 points. What I would also like to see is Andrea Bargnani continually posting up the 76ers for the entire game. He has the length and strength to take someone like Brand pay. However, the onus shouldn't be on Bargs alone as we have some athletic wings who can also do some real damage.
I fully expect the Raptors to be marching to the free throw line all night, especially if Mr. Bayless makes an appearance tonight.
2) Turnovers - It's going to be something that we continually harp on, but silly turnovers like Calderon's in the 3rd quarter of the Celtics game just aren't acceptable to me. They're mistakes made on a fundamental level that we haven't seen from our players in the past and the Raptors simply can't afford to let the 76ers back into the game like they did last time.
Conversely, the Raptors have to keep pressing the turnover-prone 76ers. It was the Raptors' aggression in the 4th quarter which saved them from a few terrible possessions. In tonight's game, they have to force the issue more with Andre Iguodala back in the lineup and with him being a notoriously poor ball handler.
3) Protect Your Home - No, I don't mean the Raptors need to install a security system from Alarm Force. Rather, the Raptors have to continue to roll while they have this time at home. The Raptors have begun to build excitement in the city and build on their confidence. However, all of that can be fleeting and with the East right now as jumbled right now, the Raptors have to protect their home court.
Put it another way, Miami has lost two in a row, including one to the Pacers, the Pacers themselves are one of six teams in the East with winning records and the New York Knicks have won four in a row. There are currently seven teams in the East with five wins, including the Raptors.
If the Raptors hope to be a team that contends for something more than a good draft pick in a lockout year, they'll need to build those wins up as much as possible.
And it all starts with beating teams like the 76ers.