3 in the Key - Raptors' Game-Day Preview vs. Blazers

A 4 and 11 start to the season is pretty bad, but should Raptors' fans have expected anything else? The HQ takes a look at the Dinos after 15 games, breaking down exactly what's going on at both sides of the court as they head into tonight's match versus the Blazers.

The Toronto Raptors have lost six straight games.

Fact.

But as fans, we all are quite aware of said fact, and considering the team's schedule, recent offensive woes, and injury issues, this is perhaps not very surprising.

So here's a question. Is this team falling short of expectations?

In other words, was anyone expecting more than a 4 and 11 record after 15 games?

I know personally my expectations were higher. But not by much. I had guessed a 7 and 15 record for the Dinos by the end of January, and with only seven games left, and a mere four wins, it's admittedly tough to see the club hitting that mark. This is especially true considering that after tonight's match against the Portland Trailblazers, the Raps head back out on the road to face the Clippers, Suns, Jazz, Nuggets and Nets before finishing off the month at home against the Hawks.

Sound like a lot of wins coming in that stretch?

Not so much, with only the Suns and Nets looking like even remote possibilities as W's.

Really, I think expectations soared prematurely after Toronto's solid start, a start that I warned was likely due to schedule more than a club that was ready to make a playoff run.

Don't get me wrong, the D has improved.

The team is allowing only 92.1 points per game, ninth best in the league, and while again, a good chunk of this is due to pace, the 19th best defensive efficiency rating, Toronto's current mark, is still miles ahead of their ranking from the last few seasons.

The problem of course is on offense where the club has the league's third-worst offensive efficiency rating. The Raps sport one of the worst effective field goal and true shooting percentages in the league, and considering their utter reluctance to attack the rim, it's no wonder. Toronto is getting to the free-throw line 19.5 times per game, among the lowest in the league. And considering they're allowing opponents to get there nearly 30 times per match, that huge differential has the Dinos in the hole each and every night. They're essentially spotting their opposition 10 points and hoping to make it up via long-range jumpers.

And as mentioned, looking at their shooting numbers, you can see why this isn't working, and why the losses are piling up.

Essentially, 15 games into the season, the Toronto Raptors are a decent defensive team, but play a defensive style that's predicated on a high foul rate, one their opponents are taking advantage of thanks to Toronto's inability to attack the rim. Therefore the club is forced to try and make up the difference on the scoreboard via jump shots, and with a team of mediocre shooters, this proves impossible on most nights.

The answer then is not to simply "knock down more Jimmies," as Jack Armstrong might say.

The answer, starting tonight, is to attack the rim, the first of our three keys for the Raps this evening, as they take on the Portland Trailblazers:

1) Get to the foul line. Simple math. If you allow opponents 30 foul shots a game, you should probably take about the same amount to give your team a chance to keep the score close. Sure, the opposing team might not hit said shots, but if you keep giving them up, there's a higher probability that you're going to have some catching up to do. Toronto has to start getting more opportunities in this fashion if it's going to keep fouling at such a high rate. Without Andrea Bargnani, only DeMar DeRozan is getting to the line more than three times a game, and that's got to change. THREE? For someone with his athletic gifts that's just not going to cut it. That doesn't mean the club should be taking bad shots, but tonight I'll be looking to see more attacking going on inside the painted area period. The Dinos are attempting only nine shots a game from the "3 to 9 foot" range, the worst mark in the league outside of the Charlotte Bobcats.

2) Dictate Pace: The Raptors play at the fourth slowest pace in the league. The Blazers play at the fifth fastest pace. Something's gotta give. If the Blazers are allowed to play at the speed they want to, this one could be over in a flash. Toronto's defense is predicated on slowing things down to a plod so if Portland is allowed to get out and score easy baskets in transition, I'm not sure how Toronto keeps up. Sure, the argument could be made that minus Bargnani, the team is better built to play this style, but that's on offence. So even if in an up-and-down game the Raps put up more points on the board, they'll likely be offset by giving up more on the other side. No, for the Raptors to get this W, in my books they need to get Portland to play their style and grind out a W.

3) Step Up: I'm not sure who I'm going to aim this last key at, but someone on this team needs to take control minus Bargs. Normally that should be DeRozan, but his play of late has me thinking that perhaps another player like Jose Calderon, or even Gary Forbes, is a better option. In their preview of tonight's game, Blazers' Edge notes that Andrea Bargnani was responsible for a quarter of his team's points and with Bargs likely on the shelf again this evening, someone else has got to get the job done.

Could that someone by Jerryd Bayless? He practiced somewhat gingerly yesterday and is a game-time decision, but perhaps he comes back guns blazing against his former club.

Let's hope so, because we're otherwise looking at another potential 70-some point outing for the Raps, and so far in games where the club fails to score over 85 points, there's not a win to be found.

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