With the marquee matchups of opening night over and done with its time for the rest of the NBA's teams to begin their seasons. Game 1 of 66 starts tonight as the Raptors travel to Ohio to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers. The HQ's Sasha Kalra weighs up the action...
Our favourite basketball team has returned and they will play their first game of the season tonight.
There are many storylines that we should all be looking forward to seeing develop throughout the course of the season. Can Dwane Casey's methods make a difference on the court, most notably on the defensive end? Can Ed Davis and DeMar DeRozan build on the promise they showed in the second half of last season to further cement their places as members of our core going forward? Can Jerryd Bayless improve his game and challenge Jose Calderon for the starting gig? How will the new acquisitions work out?
This game represents a perfect chance to figure out just where this team is currently at in terms of its cohesion and development. After going 0-2 over the preseason against a division rival, we start the season with a game on the road against another rebuilding team.
Despite their terrible year last season, the Cavs have every right to be optimistic heading into the future. Kyrie Irving was a no-brainer with the 1st overall pick in the draft and if he is given the right time and tools to develop Tristan Thompson can grow into a great player. Antawn Jamison, Anderson Varejao and Anthony Parker aren't the most talented of players, but they bring a crucial know-how to how things work in the NBA. Byron Scott remains one of the more respected head coaches in the league and with a bench capable of putting up points quickly, the Cavs represent a perfect initial acid-test for this Raptors team.
Without further ado here are the 3 keys to the game:
1) Move the Rock:
This one might seem like a bit of a no-brainer but the Raptors have a tendency to go through in-game transitionary phases where their offensive schemes become a two man game. DeRozan and Bargnani are clearly established as the lead scoring options but that doesn't mean they should simply take turns with the ball on offense. It will be crucial to get guys like James Johnson and Jose Calderon going early to ease the scoring burden on the rest of the team, and moving the ball on offense allows this to happen much easier.
2) Bench Play:
Many of the team's offseason moves were aimed at bolstering our bench play. The likes of Gary Forbes, Jamal Magloire, Aaron Gray and Rasual Butler won't be expected to start but will be expected to contribute when called upon. The Cavs have a bench that can hurt the Dinos and with Omri Cassipi, Daniel Gibson and Irving getting the majority of those minutes, they can be a streaky and dangerous bunch. Many of our players have the potential to be game changers when they step on the court and it is no coincidence that many of our wins last season coincided with a big performance by a reserve.
3) Stay Focused:
One of the biggest themes of the offseason, especially since the appointment of Dwayne Casey, has been the narrative of a young team growing together while learning a new system. They showed in spurts against the Celtics that they are able to play great defence at times, relatively speaking, and I would like to see some of the same against the Cavs. That means being locked into your matchup and duty on both sides of the ball and hopefully for an extended period of time. The crowd will be fired up and it will be up to the Dinos to suck the life out of the Quicken Loans Arena.
Here's to spurring a Dan Gilbert rant of the highest order!