Jazz vs Raptors: Game-Day Preview - A Must-Win Game for Toronto Already?

Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

Toronto looks to end its three-game losing streak with a victory later this evening against Utah at the Air Canada Centre. The HQ's Chris Walder previews tonight's action.

Some may feel that it's too early in the season to blow the whistle on this infamous expression, but considering the circumstances, I believe it's an appropriate time.

Monday night's clash with the Utah Jazz is a "must-win" for the Raptors.

It's gotten to that point.

The team is coming off an extremely demoralizing 93-83 loss to the Andrew Bynum-less Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night which saw Toronto get outscored 32 to 7 (2 for 20 from the field) in the second quarter. Andrea Bargnani scored a game-high 23 points, while Jose Calderon added a double-double of 14 points and 11 assists. In the end, it wasn't enough as the Raptors dropped their third straight game and fifth on the year.

Momentum is everything in the NBA. Toronto has garnered nothing close to it thus far.

Things don't get easier from this point forward either. Home games will now be a rarity with 12 of the next 16 on the road. The Raptors need to start making it count at the ACC before things get really out of hand.

Tonight's matchup with the Jazz is as good a time as any to get things back on the right track.

Mo Williams, Utah's leading scorer (16.8) and passer (6.3), is questionable to play after suffering a strained right adductor during Friday's game against the Denver Nuggets.

The Jazz have also struggled on the road to start the year, losing all four of their games away from EnergySolutions Arena.

Ultimately, that may not matter. They haven't lost in Toronto since 2004. It also appears that the Raptors may (still) be without Kyle Lowry, Landry Fields, and after spraining his right foot on the weekend, Alan Anderson.

So which streak ends tonight? Do the Jazz pick up their first road victory of 2012/13, or do the Raptors put an end to their losing ways?

It's time for the "Triple W: Walders Winning Ways"

1) Just be consistent!

For the most part, the Raptors either come out of the gate very lethargic and allow their opposition to gain early leads, or they play amazing basketball for three quarters and gas out by the fourth.

The 76ers game on Sunday was a prime example of that. If you don't take into account that ghastly second quarter, the Raptors actually outscored Philadelphia 76-61.

Toronto can't afford to take any quarters off. The Jazz are too talented a team to not let that go unpunished.

From tip-off to the final buzzer, the Raptors need to maintain a consistent level of play where they keep their energy high and continue to take good shots at the basket.

The minute they take their eye off the ball, that's when Utah will strike. We all don't want to see a repeat performance from Sunday.

2) Defend the paint

Al Jefferson, Paul Milsap, Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors are big bodies for the Jazz who love to pound the ball down low and get easy baskets 5-10 feet away from the rim. They also comprise 30.8 of Utah's 44.7 rebounds a night.

For guys like Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas, it's going to be extremely important to box out, hold their ground and keep their hands moving as much as possible to make things difficult for them.

It also helps that the Jazz aren't exactly the most accurate from long-range (29%, sixth worst in the NBA). The Raptors can afford to double-team in the paint without getting scorched by the three-point shot.

3) JOSE! JOSE JOSE JOSE!

If Mo Williams sits this one out, that would mean 34-year old Jamaal Tinsley would start in his place.

On Saturday night against the Phoenix Suns, Tinsley dished out 14 assists, but he didn't score a single, solitary point.

Jose Calderon should have a field day with this matchup, and he will need to in order for Toronto to pull out the win Monday night.

Neither guard is much on the defensive end, but if anyone can exploit this pairing better than the other, it's Jose.

With backup guard John Lucas struggling as much as he is (8% from the field), Calderon will need to make the most of his time on the court to prevent any fall off in production once John enters the game.

Of course, that could all change if Lucas does indeed find his shooting touch, which I believe we would all agree would be certainly welcome at this point.

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