Tip-In: "Oh So Close" - Raptors Drop 10th Straight Thanks to OT Loss to Bucks

They may have lost their tenth straight game, but as the HQ's Sean Tepper writes, this match was a huge stride in the right direction for a team that's recently looked absolutely lost.

Forget the fact that all of Milwaukee's starters reached double digits in scoring.

Forget the fact that the Toronto Raptors only shot 10 per cent from behind the arc.

Forget the fact that the Dinos lost in overtime.

Last night's 116-110 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks was one of the best games that the Raptors have played since the New Year.

Trailing 97-87 after a 3 pointer by Ersan Ilyasova gave the Bucks the lead with just over six minutes remaining, the Raptors found their way back and managed to tie it at 104-104 with 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

Tied at 104, the Bucks gave the ball to former Raptor Carlos Delfino, who instead of trying to score right off of the inbound, opted to let the clock run down before driving to the hoop. As he drove to the basket, Delfino lost control of the ball and turned it over, but Toronto wasn't able to capitalize as Bargnani's jump shot at the buzzer didn't fall, which sent the game into overtime.

While Andrew Bogut dominated the Dinos in overtime, DeMar DeRozan managed to bring the game back within reach, by tying it with a spectacular reverse layup, but after Sonny Weems missed a key shot, Corey Maggette was able to seal the deal with a pair of free throws.

While they did lose their 10th straight game, the thing that I found very encouraging about this heartbreaking loss is that for one of the first times this season, everybody on the team executed when they had to.

When the starters were not producing in the first half, Ed Davis, Jerryd Bayless, Sonny Weems and the freshly acquired Alexis Ajinca were able to step up, take control of the game and bring the Raptors back into the lead; and while the Raptors' defence did not play particularly well, they were able to step up and either stop Milwaukee or directly cause them to turn the ball over.

Two of the more impressive stats of the night came from Weems and Ajinca, who both gave the team excellent minutes off the bench.

Ajinca, who was acquired from Dallas, ended up replacing Bargnani for most of the second quarter and managed to score 10 points on 4-5 shooting while managing to put defensive pressure on the Bucks.  Weems played 43 minutes in only his second appearance since missing the previous 18 games with back spasms.  He didn't put up gaudy numbers, but he was back to his box-scoring filling self with 10 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds and only one turnover although he did struggle from the field, going 4 of 13.

Although last night's game will be overshadowed by the fact that they ended up losing, the Raps played with more heart and energy than I had seen them play with in a while, which is reassuring as they take the court against the Minnesota Timberwolves tonight.

The Raptors and the Timberwolves are in a similar situation, but unlike the Dinos, the T-Wolves have a young franchise player that they can build a team around.

Throughout the course of the season, former UCLA forward Kevin Love has dominated opponents at both ends of the court, while single-handily making the T-Wolves the number one rebounding team in the NBA.

Toronto and Minnesota enter tonight's game riding a 10 and six game losing streak respectively, and both teams will be as hungry as ever for a victory

Here are tonight's three keys for defeating the Timberwolves.

Stop Kevin Love:  You can' talk about the Minnesota Timberwolves without first talking about this offensive monster. The T-Wolves are a dismal 10-36 on the season and the only reason that they have those 10 wins are because of one man, Kevin Love. The third year 6'10 power forward/centre from UCLA is putting up some ridiculous stat lines this season as he averages 21.6 points per game and hauls down 15.7 rebounds per game. Just to put that in perspective, Tim Duncan, Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O'Neal have never averaged the 15.7 rebounds per game that Love is currently averaging this season. Stopping Love and eliminating his productivity will give the Raptors the upper hand in tonight's game and a very good chance at winning.

Win the shootout: The Raptors' biggest strength this season has been their offense, as it has single-handily kept them mildly competitive. Although only scoring 11 points last night, DeMar DeRozan is quickly emerging as the team's go-to guy on offense and Andrea Bargnani continues to show that he has the ability to score 20 plus points a night. Even Amir Johnson has shown that he can get the ball into the basket as he is averaging 14 points in his last eight games. Toronto and Minnesota are very similar in the sense that both teams have good offences (the Raptors average 99.4 points per game and the T-Wolves average 103.3 points per game) as well as incompetent defences (the Raptors have the 26th ranked defence while the T-Wolves hold the league's 30th ranked defence). In what has the makings to be a high scoring affair, and against the team that plays at the fastest pace in the league, the Raps need to ensure they execute on O and keep the turnovers to as few as possible.    

Step up on defence:  After watching Toronto's season to date, it is fair to say that while their defence has stepped up every now and again, on a whole, it has not been very good.  Tonight's game is going to have to be one of those off nights where the defence plays well. With both Kevin Love and Michael Beasley averaging just over 20 points per game, the Raptors' frontcourt is going to have to step up and not let either of these guys score easy baskets. Stopping these guys will be a tough assignment as Triano will have to hope that the combination of Amir Johnson, Andrea Bargnani, and others like Alexis Ajinca, Julian Wright and Ed Davis, can do most of the dirty work in this capacity. Bargnani's struggled all year in terms of keeping other big men at bay so the prospect of facing the colossus that is K-Love is daunting to be sure.  But if the Dinos can step it up on defence, and do as good a job on the boards as they did last night, then this should put them in a good position in terms of finally getting a W.

Sean Tepper

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