3 In the Key: Raptors Game Day Preview vs. T-Wolves


Another game and another chance for the Raptors to snap out of this losing streak.

You would think there is no better opportunity than at home against a weak Western Conference team in the Minnesota Wolves - then you remember what happened the last time these two teams met.

There are no true "high points" when a team is losing countless games one after another, but there are bound to be some significant "low points".

During the Raptors losing streak perhaps the biggest low point came January 29, 2011 against the Wolves - a 103-87 drubbing.

At the time the loss had HQ intern Sasha wondering if the team had indeed hit rock bottom.

Apparently not.

The last game against the Wolves was simply a sign of what was to come.

Rather than beat what is soon to be a dead horse with talk of the need to shoot a higher percentage, rebound the basketball, defend, etc, etc I will spare you.

Do you want the keys to the game? Try any preview over the last month.

It's really easy at this point to say that the Raptors just have to get a win, and I am hard pressed to believe that there isn't a single person in the organization who doesn't know the best opportunity for that win comes tonight.

Look at the schedule ahead this month and you will see there are only two games (Milwaukee and Charlotte) where a Raptors win looks even remotely plausible.

So what makes this game a winnable one for the Raptors? First off, the Wolves are not exactly coming North of the border on a hot streak, having gone 2-8 in their last ten (one of those wins obviously against the Raptors) and second, they are simply abysmal on the road this season with a 2-22 record.

The Raps and their fans need a win and hopefully tonight the team can pull it together and remove the now giant sized monkey off their backs.

Let's be clear however, all of this losing is not surprising. Even when completely healthy this team was going to be a less than mediocre one at best. When Vegas odds makers set the over/under on Raptors wins for the season at 26.5 I thought it was about right. It's not the losing that is bothersome so much as it is the fact that the losses are coming in bunches. The team has only won 2 games in this calendar year.

Let me say that again.

TWO GAMES.

I touched on the "culture" point at then end of Monday's recap which to be is the bigger concern. Right now the team has no identity or culture to speak of. Compare the Raptors to say, the Steelers (who for all of those living under a rock will be playing in the Superbowl this weekend). The Steelers have a long history of smash mouth football, a staunch defense and an astute running game. This is how it is, how it has been, and how it always will be.

The Raptors, on the other hand, have a limited history and have never had a true identity other than the "team still in Canada". With the second youngest club in the league, with so little experience, this is the exact time when the organization has to start developing a culture.

As an organization it is not hard to identify the fact that the City of Toronto and its residents are likely to embrace a hard nosed, defensive minded team that puts forth a blue collar effort every night, not unlike the Steelers. People spend their hard earned cash to watch games and lack of effort is not something fans take lightly - fans that for the most part, grew up watching hockey.

The team needs to start feeding that mentality. The team needs to be sure the players understand that only those players who bring a lunch box to work day in and day out will be rewarded with playing time, in particular its best players. The team needs to bring in veterans with that same sort of mentality.

Lately it would seem that Triano is more and more onside with this mantra. The most obvious example is by sitting Andrea Bargnani for chunks of time when he doesn't seem quite into the game. This is really the biggest reason fans are really starting to gravitate to players like Amir Johnson ("Warrior") and Ed Davis (nickname to be determined) and turn so strongly against Bargs ("Tinman").

Andrea, it can be argued, has a greater upside than any other player on this team. He has shown flashes of greatness. When clicking his shot is deadly, he can attack the rim and has a very strong mid-range game. He can also be proficient in the post when he choses to be. But again, the problem is Bargs doesn't seem to bring the same mentality to the game as a player like Amir Johnson. He simply shouldn't be rewarded with playing time when he brings anything less than 100 per cent. By giving him heavy minutes when he doesn't deserve or earn them, it only reinforces the fact that it's ok to take plays off, something that trickles down to younger teammates, and certainly doesn't help to establish a desirable culture.

This was supposed to be Andrea's season to shine. From the outset Il Mago was going to be the go-to-guy and the face of the franchise. It has not worked out as expected and now that he is in a slump, things are getting really ugly. The fact is the guy has not built up a lot of "rope" with the fans.

Simply put, if he grabbed a few more boards and looked like he was giving maximum effort on the defensive end there would be a whole lot less debate about Andrea, and more of a willingness to see him work through his offensive struggles. For some of us, including myself, Bargnani has cast himself in the shadow left by Vince Carter -so much talent and ability, so little desire to be great.

There is no question that this team has a long way to go before contending, but establishing a culture or identity starts now.

Hopefully, in spite of the consistent losing, the organization as a whole can start laying the groundwork for a true identity. That means rewarding those who deserve it even if, in the short term, it means losing a few more games.

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