The Toronto Raptors finish off their West Coast swing with a match tonight against the Portland Trailblazers. The HQ takes a look at their 3 keys to preventing an 0-4 swing...
The argument's been made that there are no small wins, or as Raps Republic put it last night, moral victories are for losers.
And to a certain extent, I can understand that.
You can feel good about how you played for 82 games a season, yet if you win only 20 of those games, you still suck.
That being said, I think that expression needs some context around it to be true.
Sure, if you're a team like the Raptors were the past four years, I think that's bang on. If you don't win, and you've got a team that's proven they can win to a certain degree, then moral victories feel pretty hollow, because regardless, your club isn't playing up to expectations.
However this current version of the Raptors hasn't proven anything.
They're an extremely young group by and large, and they need to learn to win. In this context therefore, I think games like last night's against the Lakers do mean something. Toronto stood toe-to-toe with one of the top teams in the league, and gave them their best shot, a shot that was almost enough for a win, and an end to LA's early undefeated season.
Following up on this the, I'm extremely interested to see how tonight's game plays out.
Will last night's Dinos show up, looking again to surprise a more talented opponent?
Or will we see the team that played Utah; the one that in spurts looks like it can contend for a playoff spot in the East, but overall can't consistently get the job done.
It's a great question, and here are my 3 keys on how Toronto can indeed get said job done:
1) Turnovers. Let's start with an obvious one. Toronto has been middle of the pack at best this year in terms of maintaining possession of the ball. (They actually sit 18th as of today.) This is of course in stark contrast to the Raptors we have been accustomed to, a group that excels in preventing turnovers. However this year both Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon have looked sloppy at times, and far too often players like DeMar DeRozan and Leandro Barbosa are leaving their feet on passes, throwing the ball right into the opponent's arms.
This can't happen tonight.
Portland is the third best team in the league in terms of not turning it over so likely won't give Toronto any chances back.
Considering the Blazers are one of the top clubs in the league at forcing turnovers too, and have the athletes like Nicholas Batum to get out and score in transition, Toronto needs to keep the ball in their own mitts tonight.
2) Start Strong. We've seen this movie before. Starters get down 20, bench pulls things back within 5 or 6...but that's about as close as it gets.
Toronto can't keep doing this, especially against teams like the Lakers and Blazers.
Tonight guys like Jarrett Jack need to set the tone right from the jump and ensure that this isn't another "play-from-behind" affair.
3) 3 is Key. A little play on words to end this one off.
The Raptors haven't been great shooting the long ball this season but Portland? - Terrible. They rank 25th in 3-pt field goal percentage and yet keep hoisting them up at a pretty good clip.
I'd like to see Toronto encourage this tonight.
Last night we saw Jay Triano make good use of zone defenses at times to force LA into other looks on O, and I'm hoping we see lots of the same this evening. Whereas the Lake Show has some of the best bombers in the league, Portland, not so much, and a huge point this evening will be if Toronto can force the Blazers into the long-range game.