After a hard-fought loss in Dallas to the Mavericks, the Raptors are back at it tonight against the Magic. The HQ's Sean Tepper breaks it down...
Coming off of a tough loss to the reigning NBA champs, the Toronto Raptors should be eager to start 2012 off against the Orlando Magic. In three games against Dwight Howard and co. the Raptors managed to go 2-1 despite the fact that Howard, who averaged 29 points and 12 rebounds against Toronto last season, manhandled them in all three games.
While Andrea Bargnani and Leandro Barbosa both showed flashes of offensive brilliance against Dallas, no Raptor is more eager to get back on the court more than DeMar DeRozan, who is coming off of his worst performance of the season. Having been a non-factor in Friday's game, playing Orlando may be just what the doctor ordered for DeRozan, who combined for 50 points in Toronto's two wins against Orlando last season.
Although the Magic are 3-1, they have beaten up on sub-par teams (Charlotte, New Jersey and Houston) and the Raptors should pose a formidable challenge for Stan Van Gundy's squad.
Here are three things to watch out for in this one.
Stopping Dwight - When I previewed Toronto's game against the Orlando Magic last season, I made it a point to note just how dominant a player that Dwight Howard was, and I said that it would be in Toronto's best interest to let Howard dominate them and focus on shutting down the rest of their team. This season, Howard, who has grabbed 24 rebounds in each of his last two games while scoring a combined 36 points, has solidified his spot as the best centre in the NBA, but unlike last season, the Raptors have to make it a point to shutdown a player that they have no obvious answer for. When he was named as the Raptors' new head coach in July, Dwane Casey promised to infuse this young squad with a sense of defensive toughness and urgency and while defending Howard is a tall task for any team, Casey has to find a way to neutralize one of the NBA's most dominant big men. Doing so can go a long way in inspiring a young team, while setting the tone for the rest of the season.
DeMar DeRozan - Whether you have accepted it or not, DeMar DeRozan is Toronto's best player and although he is coming off of his worst game of this young season, Toronto's young guard will have to bounce back in a big way. The main reason that DeRozan was rendered useless was because he refused to be aggressive and drive the ball inside. Instead, the third-year player settled for jump shots, and as any Raptors fan knows, that does not play to his advantages. What was arguably more concerning than DeRozan's lack of offense was the lack of productivity from the team's bench. Other than Leandro Barbosa, who scored 20 pints against the Mavs, the rest of Toronto's bench combined for a grand total of six points. With DeRozan still adjusting to Casey's new game plan, the Dinos' bench needs to step up and set the tone when their best player goes cold from the field.
Playing Fundamental Basketball - In yesterday's "Tip-In," Scott noted how the Raptors' inability to get to the free throw line played a pivotal role in their 99-86 loss to the reigning NBA champs, and this game won't be any different. On average, the Raptors allow opposing teams to get to the free-throw line 29.3 times per game, and on Friday Dallas shot 38 free throws from the charity stripe. Add that to the fact that the Raptors have turned over the ball at an alarming rate and you are left with a team that is constantly shooting itself in the foot. If the Raptors can get to the free throw line and limit their turnovers, they should have a legitimate shot at beating the Magic.