3 in the Key - Raptors' Game-Day Preview vs Bucks

I'd want Evans back in a Raptors uniform. I shudder to think about our defense if he leaves.

Raptors basketball is winding down as the Bucks look to make a push towards the playoffs.  However, the Raptors core still has lots to work towards as the season winds down.

The Jays are in the news as their GM with a plan looks towards building from a youth movement and makes shrewd decisions.

The Leafs are theoretically still in the race for the final playoff spot, but it's all about too little, too late.

India and Pakistan are about to square off in a cricket match for the ages.

The NFL is gearing up for their draft.

Yes, it's spring time again and we're about to enter the final stretch of a pretty nasty season.  Statistically, there's not of a heckuva lot to hang your hat on as Triano's Raptors limp into the end of the season.  Offensive rebounding is much higher than I expected it to be with Ed Davis, Reggie Evans, and Amir Johnson taking in the majority of the load.  The Raptors were even fifth in overall shots made, and are amongst the best in assists.

The rest is just pretty ugly.

There's no question that the Raptors had a pretty tough hand dealt to them.  With players young and inexperienced at the beginning of the year, Bryan Colangelo made his squad even younger by the end.  Toss in a devastating injury to Reggie Evans who was a veteran presence on the team and the Raptors were flying by the seat of their pants.

However, the question that seems to be whispered in the halls of the ACC lately is whether Jay Triano and his staff should return for another year.  You can certainly make the case that he should be ousted based on where the Raptors ended up as a whole in comparison to the league.  Statistically, the Raptors finished last in a lot of categories.

In my opinion though, the Raptors already have a good development coach and staff.  The work that they've done with DeMar DeRozan to elevate his game beyond his rookie season is quite well documented.   With Amir Johnson, Alex English worked his magic and transformed Johnson into a fairly serious shooting threat from the free throw line. I'd like to see Triano and his staff get a little bit more time with Ed Davis and James Johnson.  With the Raptors possibly looking at another year of slow development, I don't see the benefit of switching coaches and ideas now.

While these final games will mean little to the Raptors at this point except from a development standpoint, their opponents may still find much worth in these games.  With Cleveland dropping Miami yesterday in a stunner, and Indiana beating on the Celtics the other night, the Raptors may yet still have a part to play in shaping the Eastern Conference Playoff picture.  Milwaukee is just three games back of the Pacers and they need every single game to catch up.  If the Raptors want to play spoiler, here are the keys they'll need to follow:

1) Limit the Reinforcements - The Raptors need to be careful about allowing both Michael Redd and Drew Gooden become impact players in this game.  With both players attempting to shake off the rust of not playing for months and months, the Raptors need to exploit them with their own bench.  Michael Redd in particular could become a dangerous weapon if the Raptors leave him open like they've had a tendency to.

2) Delfino and Salmons: Raptor Killers - Both Carlos Delfino and John Salmons are great targets for a point guard like Brandon Jennings, and both can be absolutely deadly against the Raptors.  It's no secret that the Raptors have been at times bad on dribble penetration, horrible on help defense, and completely out to lunch on rotations.  With Salmons and Delfino able to attack the rim and stroke it from mid-to-long range, it could be a very long night for the Raptors.

However, the Raptors have also have a stronger small forward and better backup options in Jerryd Bayless and Leandro Barbosa in dealing with another team's speedy guards.  So it'll be this matchup that I'll be looking at closely...  Especially if it may mean the difference between DeMar DeRozan getting significant burn or riding the pine.

3) Develop the Core - And speaking of DeMar DeRozan, the area which the Raptors youth movement still has the most difficulty with is defense.  Yes, the three point shooting on this team will need to improve drastically next year, and even then, the Raptors are already averaging 99.3 points per game.  No, if the Raptors continue to allow teams to shoot 105.6 points per game and continue to be amongst the worst defenses in the league, it's just no way to develop the core. 

That's why Reggie Evans's involvement continues to be important to the Raptors' development.  He may gobble up some of the minutes for some of the other bigs, but Evans is the one who continues to get on his team to get them to play the "right way".  So the Raptors need him.  They need someone to teach the kids that what gets you wins and what gets you back into the playoffs is hard work on both sides of the court. 

He seems to be the only one to encourage that accountability amongst teammates.

And that's something every core needs.

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