3 in the Key - Raptors' Game-Day Preview vs. The 76ers


8 straight losses.  More injuries than wins.  And a broken 3-point streak...yep, it's pretty much the lowest of lows for Raptors fans right now...

So is this it?

Is this the darkest moment in the history of the Toronto Raptors' franchise?

It feels a bit like it doesn't it, and not simply because that damn 3-point streak has come to an end.

Just over halfway through the 2010-11 season the team has 13 wins, has lost eight in a row, are again the least efficient defensive club in the NBA, and a loss tonight against the Philadephia 76ers would put the team on pace for about 23 victories, the lowest for the Dinos since the 1998-99 campaign, Toronto's fourth in the league.

Yikes.

Not exactly what Bryan Colangelo had in mind when he rode into town on his white horse what feels like just a few short years ago.

Some of you though are probably at this point though saying "woah Franchise, darkest days ever?  Chill!"

And maybe you're right.

After all, there were some dark times under Rob Babcock, and I'm sure many fans felt in the club's first few seasons that it was never going to shed the "expansion team" monicher.

But when I think back to 2005, the year we started RaptorsHQ, there was actually more optimism about the team's future than there is now, based on the vibe I get from talking to fans and comments from readers.  Sure, Hoffa looked like a bust from Day 1, but remember, soon after, promising youngsters like Charlie Villanueva and Joey Graham were drafted, and a certain point guard named Jose Calderon arrived on the scene.

And while the Babcock era was over before it began, Bryan Colangelo parlayed the team's rebuilding efforts into the top pick in the 2006 draft.

Perhaps this season then is a realization of the saying "it's always darkest before the dawn."

At present, the Raptors are on track to have at least a 10% chance at the top pick in next year's draft, and potentially a franchise-altering player.  (Maybe they put early dibs in on this kid for a future draft too as an aside.)  Ed Davis looks like a nice piece for the future and DeMar DeRozan is starting to put up some consistently solid scoring numbers.

So there is some hope.

It's just hard to see this as the losses continue to pile up, and as attendance at games continues to dwindle.

On top of this, it's been tricky to get some of the developmental results many onlookers, myself included, were hoping for thanks to the myriad of injuries this team has had to face.  Already the third youngest in the league, it's admittedly hard to win games when a)  your team is one of the least experienced in the league and b) a chunk of the most experienced are always hurt or have been traded.

Tonight though the Raps hope to take down the Philadelphia 76ers in an attempt to halt the club's losing ways, a game we'll be attending via media access.

I don't think we could have timed our visit better as it's always interesting to get a feel for the locker-room dynamics when a club is going through a very tough stretch, and is missing many of its key guys.  This is when you begin to see just how mentally tough a group is, and where it gets its leadership from outside of the immediate coaching staff.

Can Toronto get a win?

I think so as Philly, while six and a half games ahead of the Raps in the standings, still isn't that great of a team. They're six games under .500 themselves and while have won two in a row, aren't the consistent force they probably should be considering their line-up.

Here are our keys:

1)  Control the paint.  Yep, we've heard this one before but against Philly it's crucial.  After Elton Brand, and a few 3's that can play the 4 like Thad Young, Andre Iguodala and even rookie Evan Turner, there isn't much there.  Spencer Hawes?  Marrese Speights?  While we all probably expect Hawes to be the Stub of the Night, the reality is if Toronto wants to win this game they need to control the glass and attack the rim.  Obviously this means Andrea Bargnani but it would be great so see another Memphis-esque performance from Jerryd Bayless in this respect too.

2)  Get out and go.  Linked to the first key is our second one.  If the Raps can control the paint this will allow them to get out on the break and attack in transition, one of the team's biggest strengths.  The 76ers struggle at times to guard in transition, and play at one of the league's slower paces.  If Toronto's defence and rebounding can dictate the style of play tonight, it bodes well for a W. 

3)  DeMar DeRozan.  DeMar is emerging as one of the brightest spots in this very rough year.  With Andrea's up and down play, it's crucial to get another consistent scoring option and for this fans are looking at the second-year man from USC.  He'll have to wage war defensively though with the likes of Turner and Iguodala so it will be interesting to see if he can still perform at a high level scoring-wise, even after chasing these two around on the night.

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