Against the L.A. Clippers, the Raptors find what will be one of their easier opponents down the stretch. Nevertheless, the Raptors can ill afford to be anything less than perfect in the final stretch as the Bulls are nipping at their heels.
In about 48 hours, we've gone from the Raptors losing another game, an extremely damaging and critical article by perhaps one of the best mainstream writers in the business, to a win that shows that the Raptors have at least a little life in them. It wasn't quite "the sky is falling" but what the heck.
Even Doug Smith has now proclaimed Hedo Turkoglu a bust for most of this season.
Thanks for catching up with the rest of the world, Mr. Smith.
In any case, there was a lot to read about in Michael Grange's article, and if you haven't read it, I heartily suggest you go ahead and familiarize yourself with it. Because for all the optimism and sunshine that may still exist in some tiny corners of our Raptors fanbase, the future is not a great place to look forward to.
For the past couple previews, I've prefaced my keys by talking about what's broken on this team and what needs to be done. Grange put all that into his article, rolled it up, and tossed in a couple new nuggets as well. Bosh's new girlfriend? Turkoglu partying it up on the town while he was sick? All of these things came crashing in at once and just piled on an already unfavourable situation for the Raptors.
Of course, just hours later, the Raptors would put out their best all around effort in over a month.
There are going to be those that celebrated our last win as proof that this team is showing a pulse after almost making it back two games in a row and failing. For those of you who would like me to be kinder to the Raptors, I'm sorry, but I can't. I've been optimistic for most of the year, but these remaining games are supposed to be the sharpening stones by which our Raptors team should be using to get ready to go deep in the playoffs. Instead, here we are, not even sure if they will be occupying the final spot to get in. Here we are, not even sure of our roster rotations.
Which brings us to our next "must win" game.
The L.A. Clippers are far from being the top of anyone's "tough" list, but for the Raptors, beating up on must-win teams has not come automatically this year. For a conference contender, these games are the ones that the team should be looking at as games that should be put to bed early. Instead, the Raptors have to use these games to iron out kinks in their rotations and settle into a confidence-building win. It's why this game is much more important psychologically for our Raptors, and it's how I'll start today's keys:
1) Run what you want and run all over your opponent
Not to look down on the Clippers too much, but the Raptors are playoff bound and still are not sure about their final lineup on the floor. Can you tell who will be in at the end of games? Can you answer me why Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack are still playing on the floor at the same time? These are things that have to be settled on before the playoffs start and by finding a lineup that finally works, the Raptors will make sure that their rotations will fire on all cylinders when they face their first round opponent. Hopefully this time, when the Raptors get a double digit lead, they'll be able to protect it and close out the game strong
2) Get to the line
Top priority for the Raptors in today's game has got to be to go to the line. In the playoffs, it's going to be a huge factor, but in today's game, it will essential to getting a win. There's not much to be proud of as a Clipper fan, but they are first overall in blocks. With players like Chris Kaman, Rasual Butler, and DeAndre Jordan providing a lot of the blocks, the Raptors must be diligent about attacking them in the post not only from their bigs. After all, the best way to counter the Clipper's advantage is to get those top blockers in trouble by manufacturing fouls on them.
3) Take advantage of L.A.'s back-to-back
The distinct killer instinct that has been missing for a month seems to have been found. Nevertheless, the Clippers played the Bucks yesterday before flying here to take out our Raptors. This will once again fall to Jay Triano to establish the correct rotation to make L.A. work for every possession. I expect the Raptors to use their more athletic players to make this an up and down affair and for the Raptors to play to their strengths. It's time the Raptors listen to their killer instinct and put a team away when they have the disadvantage.