After going 0-5 on their latest road trip, the Raptors return to the frigid city of Toronto to play the Memphis Grizzlies. What do the Raps have to do to get a win tonight? The HQ's Sasha Kalra takes a look.
Road losses to New Orleans, San Antonio, Washington, Orlando and Miami were not the remedy this team was looking for after heartbreaking losses to Detroit and Atlanta at home.
Mike Miller had a field day on Saturday, scoring more points than he had all year. This reality becomes more painful when one realizes that the Heat were without Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade...and had virtually no inside presence to speak of. DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani combined well on the offensive end of the floor against the Heat, and will need to produce the goods again this time around. OJ Mayo, Rudy Gay and the Memphis Grizzlies are coming into town, and you can be sure that Lionel Hollins has showed them tape of Miller.
The Grizzlies are currently 9th in the Western Conference and check into this game with a mark of 21-23. They beat the Bucks on Saturday night and Marc Gasol had 24 points and 16 boards in the win. This is a team that would no doubt be challenging for a top 6 spot in the East but in the West, they're fighting to stay alive in terms of playing for that eighth and final seed. As a result, the Grizz will probably be looking at this one tonight with a lot more anticipation than most.
One can't mention Memphis without bringing up the enigma that is Hasheem Thabeet. I suddenly feel a warm and fuzzy feeling regarding our very own Andrea Bargnani. Much of the talk in Memphis as of late has been about Mayo and Tony Allen fighting on the team's plane over a card game, but Thabeet is starting to look like the pink elephant in the room, on course for a Kwame Brown-esque draft bust status.
(Of course assuming he gets off the bench this evening, Thabeet's got a great chance to break out of his funk and turn in a career performance. Can someone say "Stub of the Night" option number one?)
Amidst all the chaos Rudy Gay has been doing his best Chris Bosh impression. He recently uploaded a video to his youtube channel asking fans for All-Star Game votes.
He's no doubt having a great season...but an All-Star?
In any event, this game is winnable tonight but no walk in the park for the banged up Raps. The dual threat of having wing players that can put the ball in the hoop and big men that actually play like big men could spell doom for TO early again, and hopefully the current 7 game losing streak hasn't taken too big of a toll on the team's younger players.
Regardless however, and here are the three keys to tonight's game:
As Franchise pointed out yesterday, the Raptors only have 9 players available and out of those 9, Jeryd Bayless still doesn't look like he is 100%. The Raptors will need to play with a purpose against an athletically-superior Grizzlies team that looks to get up and down the court. This means no lazy 3 pointers, suspect closing out or weak box outs. Home court needs to energize this bunch and when they play with such passion this team is capable of playing at a high level.
2) Dominate the paint
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are a dangerous duo on offense, and both of them had big nights against the Bucks. Randolph made some big plays down the stretch last time he was in town and his ability to go for 20/10 on any given night has to warrant attention. The best way to slow them down is to make them work on defence, and the Raps big men need to be attacking the rim to make that happen.
3) Point Guard Play
The Raptors are a different team when Jose Calderon and Jeryd Bayless both show up on the same night. Calderon has an important role on this team and after years of always making the safe play, he now seems to be taking more risks this year with his passing. With Bargnani, DeRozan, and Kleiza all in "score first pass second" mode, it will be up to Jose to keep everyone happy and more importantly keep the team's offense ticking.