Back in the summer, we ran a series of posts comparing the Toronto Raptors to other NBA teams, many of which were division or conference rivals.
One of those teams, was the New York Knicks and we asked readers, given the current status of both clubs, which team they'd rather be.
The Raps won the battle, with 56 per cent of respondents preferring the Dinos' current situation to that of the Knickerbockers, the rational being that the Knicks had tapped out talent-wise, were never going to advance past at most, the second round of the playoffs, and had little money to add to their current talent base.
Tonight, we see put these results to the first of many tests, as indeed, it's the Raps versus the Knicks...
...live from Montreal.
Yep, the NBA's continued attempts to expand the game of basketball beyond its usual borders means a date in "La Belle Province," and is Toronto's fourth pre-season match. The club sports a three-and-one record so far but has won two straight and will be looking to get another W this evening.
Here are our three keys:
1. Defense. The Raps' D hasn't been abysmal so far in pre-season, but it's hardly been stellar, and definitely not up to the level head coach Dwane Casey will be expecting this season. Against a very potent New York Knicks' offense, the D part is key, especially early on as this one could be over quickly if Toronto lets New York jump out to a big lead.
New York is 2 and 0 so far in pre-season play, but aren't exactly putting up 120 per game as some would expect. The team is missing some key players, especially on O, and this should help the Raptors' defensive moxy. JR Smith did not make the trip to Montreal, Iman Shumpert, Ronnie Brewer are still out for a while, and Marcus Camby and Amar'e Stoudemire are question marks as well. Fans in Montreal therefore could be seeing a lot of James "Flight" White, Pablo Prigioni and Steve Novak, all of whom played over 20 minutes in the Knicks' overtime win against the Celtics in their last contest.
2. First quarter play. The one commonality so far for Toronto in preseason has been the first quarter, or, lack of a first quarter perhaps. The team has either struggled to score, struggled to get stops, or in some cases, both, and in most matches has dug themselves a big hole early. Tonight, I'll be keeping an eye on this as it's something that we could indeed see carry over to the regular season.
In particular, if Andrea Bargnani sits this one out, I'm curious to see how the club starts. Andrea, who we'll get to in a moment, hasn't looked great to say the least, and if Aaron Gray, Ed or Amir get the call alongside Jonas, I'll be watching to see if the club looks sharper at either end of the court.
3. Mr. Primo Pasta. I'll end this preview by looking at the one player who's been the biggest concern so far this pre-season. Landry Fields turned in a solid performance with Kyle Lowry back, Jose Calderon's been playing quite well, DeMar DeRozan has exceeded my early expectations, and even lesser-heralded players like Dominic McGuire and John Lucas have been great.
But Andrea's been bad.
He's hit only 12 of the 39 shots he's taken (31 per cent) and his long-range game has been even worse (3 of 11 for a solid 27 per cent mark.)
He's not even making it up at the line as there he's hit only 58 per cent of his shots and so he's sporting a pretty putrid 9.5 points per game average. Considering that the one stat most people point to is his scoring, regardless of efficiency or any other associated metric, scoring under 10 points despite averaging over 25 minutes per game, and contributing in zero categories out side this (3.5 rebounds per match), well...
You get the idea.
Combine this with the fact that it looks like he doesn't even seem that interested on the court and it's clear that if Bargs plays tonight, (here we go with the calf again), he needs to turn in a dominant performance.