3 In the Key: Toronto Raptors Game Day Preview vs. Minnesota


Coming off a win against the worst team in the league (New Jersey) the Raps now head to Minnesota to face the second worst team - the Timberwolves.

Facing a key stretch of games where the Toronto team faces the likes of Utah, Denver, Miami and Charlotte getting consecutive wins would go a long way to building some momentum.

Talk about the perfect time to face both the Nets and the Wolves.

Having slid into the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference the Raptors couldn't have asked for a better "break" in the schedule.

The Nets are just hoping to win 10 games this season while the Wolves have been a major disappointment and head into tonight's game having lost 10 in a row.

It has been another long season for T-Wolves fans and it all started with the draft. Despite having two high lottery picks the Wolves passed twice on Steph Curry and Brandon Jennings and instead ended up with Jonny Flynn (fine) and a player that won't be making an appearance in a Wolves jersey any time soon in Ricky Rubio. In addition to a questionable draft Al Jefferson has not fully recovered from his knee surgery and Kevin Love has had a brutal time just trying to stay healthy. It's been another long season for fans in Minnesota. Like they say, when it rains it pours.

Facing the Wolves and the Nets does help you feel a little better about being a Raps fan. Despite the ups and downs of the season things could always be worse - the Wolves are starting Darko Milicic at center.

Tonight should provide an opportunity for players other than CB4 to get their respective games off. Bargnani has a clear match-up advantage against Milicic, Hedo should have success against Ryan Gomes and DeRozan can more than handle Corey Brewer. Out of all of these players the one I will be watching the most closely is Bargnani. Lately Andrea has struggled and tonight provides his a great chance to get his confidence back. After a difficult night in New Jersey it will be interesting to see how he responds. He needs a big game and must find his confidence. If the Raps have any hope of making a late season run getting consistent solid play from Il Mago is required.

Securing the W tonight should not be that difficult of a task but as the season winds down and the seating in the Eastern Conference playoffs remains up for grabs it is an important game. When you look at the top four teams in the East, Cleveland has clearly established itself as the cream of the crop and would be a nightmare of a first round match-up. That's not to say Orlando or Boston would be "favorable" per se but seeing the Raps against either of them would be preferrable and allow for a glimmer of hope. 

So what are the keys to tonight's game? Here they are.

1. More Bosh: Looking like his old self in New Jersey there is no reason not to go back to the well time and time again. Chris is a tough match-up for the Minnesota front court as none of Al Jefferson, Kevin Love or Darko Milicic have the defensive quicks to stay ahead of him. Look for the TWolves bigs to sag back allowing open J's or constant double teams thus leaving the team's shooters wide open.

2. Solid Start: In the second half of Saturday night's game it was the Raps talent and superior skill level that helped secure the win. The first half was not however, a pretty affair. After the first 24 minutes the Raps actually trailed the Nets. Hopefully tonight the Raps can come out swinging and put together a complete game, once again against an inferior opponent.

3. Protect the Paint: The Wolves are not a team of sharp shooters. Their offense relies heavily on Al Jefferson and getting into the paint. The answer? Collapse the D. Tonight the defensive strategy should be a simply one - live and die by the jumper. By forcing Jefferson and Love to give up the ball and making the likes of Flynn, Brewer and Gomes jack up shots from the outside should ensure an easy win, and the Wolves 11th straight loss.

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