If you're a basketball fan this is maybe the best time of the year as far as you're concerned.
The NCAA conference tournaments are a weekend away in most cases, it's crunch time in the NBA regular season (as evidenced by the heated game last night between Miami and Orlando), March Madness is around the corner, and the Raptors are taking on the Nets in the UK!
Ok so the last one doesn't quite fit.
In fact for the life of me, I can't understand this whole "Raps/Nets random March exhibition game in England" thing.
Toronto sure, perhaps the most "international" team in the league.
But New Jersey?
Was this the only team that was willing to actually play the slate of games against Toronto?
The whole thing has always struck me as a bit odd but nevertheless, it's a good marketing endeavour by the NBA, and with the trade of Deron Willliams to said Nets, this should be a pretty good draw for fans in London England.
Yes, it sounds like after some questions as to his availability, Deron Williams will play this afternoon (game is at 3 PM EST) meaning that what looked like frankly two definite wins for the Dinos, don't like that any more.
Not that Deron playing guarantees New Jersey a W; after all, the Nets are still winless since his arrival and Jose Calderon has played BETTER against some of the league's elite PG's of late. But it certainly changes the tone of the game.
So let's take a look at this afternoon's affair, and turn to the three keys...
1) Jose Calderon. Let's stick with the Raptors' lead point guard for a second here. When Jose plays well, and I mean scores the ball as well as orchestrates the offence, it completely changes the dynamics of his basketball club. For starters, he's the team's best long-range shooter, which spreads the court and enables guys like DeMar DeRozan to go to work off the bounce. Calderon also helps out the likes of Amir Johnson and Ed Davis by being an offensive threat. When Jose's looking to score, it opens up the paint and allows shot-fake options for easy dump-ins in the post, or even lobs at the rim. I don't have the stats at hand, but I'm positive that the team's performance this season is a lot better when Calderon does an efficient job of scoring, and not just taking care of the rock. I'm looking to see him do this this afternoon.
2) Keep the Nets on the Perimeter. Yes, Deron Williams and Anthony Morrow can fill it up from outside but after those two? Jordan Farmar? Travis Outlaw? The Machine? Yep, it gets sketchy and the proof of this is in the Nets' effective field goal percentage, second worst in the league. Toronto showed against New Orleans that it's more than capable of pushing an opponent's big men out of the key and keeping things on the outside for the most part, and they need to do this again tonight. I'd much rather see guys like Outlaw and Stephen Graham chucking it up then Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez getting easy dunks in close.
3) Take the ball out of Williams' hands. Raptors' fans probably remember Deron quite well. His Utah Jazz have destroyed the Raptors time and time again over the past few seasons, and he was always the catalyst. As tough a match-up as uber-quick guards like Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose are, the Raps have struggled even more I'd argue with physical types like Williams. However as noted in the previous key, after Deron, there's not a ton of offence on this team (which would explain the Nets dismal offensive efficiency rating), so tonight I'm hoping to see Jay Triano, utilize some tactics to make other New Jersey players score. Allowing Deron to take over early could spell doom for the club as the bench has been very inconsistent this season. I'm not banking on the pine crew bailing the club out so it's imperative that Williams is kept in check tonight as much as possible.