Do the Raps want to avoid going 0-4 on this West Coast road trip and risk falling out the top 8 in the Eastern Conference?
If so this is a game they absolutely must get.
So it has not been easy as a Raptors fan this year.
Early on there were lots of bumps in the road and the Raps looked to be the worst defensive team in the history of basketball (slight exaggeration).
Around the mid-point of the season the team seemed to get their act together and started their ascent in the Eastern Conference standings. Things were looking so rosy that people were wondering if catching the Boston Celtics in the Atlantic Division standings was a real possibility.
Now? Sorta feels like we have got back in time...back to the beginning of the season where watching this team get blown out on a night to night basis is a distinct possibility. John Hollinger discusses the Raps terrible defense here (Insider).
I mean I love college ball, but I really didn't think that us covering first round prospects, like Franchise did yesterday, was going to be all that relevant given the Raps were not going to have a pick.
Wrong I was.
Take a close look at the standings and you will quickly realize what a precarious position the Raps are in when it comes to making the playoffs. The latest losing streak has allowed Milwaukee to jump up in the standings and, prior to last night's games, the Raps are essentially in a three way tie for eighth place with Charlotte and Miami.
At this moment, the only team in contention playing worse than the Raps is the Bulls. Chicago is in the ninth spot having lost six games in a row. Over the next few weeks there is going to be 9 teams battling for 8 spots and I have do doubt it is going to come down to the wire. The question is, when the music stops, will the Raps be sitting in one of those seats or pouring over scouting reports more than anticipated.
It's not going to be easy for the Raptors to get back on track in the next couple of games. Tonight they face a Warriors team that is much better at home than on the road and then in the second half of the back to back face a dangerous Portland team that has battled through its fair share of adversity this season.
I don't give the Raps much of a chance to win the second game, so unless they intend on laying a goose egg on this road trip they must win tonight.
Frankly I don't have high hopes. For a team that is once again searching for a defensive identity, facing the Warriors in their building is not exactly what the doctor ordered. The Warriors are the second highest scoring team in the league at 107.2 points per game and are likely eager to face a team that both provides little resistance and seems to have a plethora of off the court issues to deal with.
Antoine Wright has once again come out and called into question the make-up of this team (rightfully so) while the rumour vultures are swirling with talk that Bosh is headed to New York for David Lee to team up with Joe Johnson. It can't be an easy situation in the Raps locker-room right now.
Nevertheless the show must go on.
Here's the keys to tonight's game.
1. PG Defense: Jarrett Jack and Jose Calderon have to be much better against Steph Curry and Monta Ellis defensively, then they were against Beno Udrih and Tyreke Evans. It's going to be a real challenge. Curry and Ellis are a lethal combination on the offensive end and the Raps made Udrih look like Larry Bird. Someone has to right this ship defensively and Jack and Calderon are the head of the beast. If they can't get after it I am calling for a Marcus Banks sighting at this moment. Triano has to stop playing Mr. Nice Guy and play the guys that get after it and do what they are asked. Won't play D? Won't play at all.
2. Paging Hedo Turkoglu: As bad as the PG defense has been the output from the wing position has been worse. The Warriors have Corey Maggette back and he has been very solid for the Warriors consistently getting to the line and filling it up (although not always pretty). If the Raps can't get some production from Hedo teams are simply going to sag back, crowd Bosh and Bargnani and get easy W's. Hedo needs to at least do what he was doing during Bosh's absence. "Ball" or no "Ball".
3. Start Wright: I think the point has come where there is very good reason for Triano to mix-up the starting line-up so why not start Wright and see if he can put his money where his mouth is? A message has to be sent at some point that things cannot continue in this vein. Where's the incentive for players to get after it if they know that no matter how well they play certain guys are automatically going to get a prescribed number of minutes? Triano has to become captain of this ship and start sending messages before the inmates run the asylum.