Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE
Toronto looks to end its eight-game road losing streak later tonight at EnergySolutions arena against the .500 Utah Jazz. The HQ's Chris Walder takes a look at tonights festivities.
The last time I wrote a preview for a Raptors/Jazz matchup, I endured severe scrutiny from readers for me deeming that game (which took place back in early November) a "must-win".
This go-around, I won't be jumping the gun once again and pulling that gem out of my bag of tricks. The team was 1-5 entering that game, so I do regret my journalistic approach of putting such an important emphasis on such an early, somewhat "meaningless in the long haul" kind of encounter.
However, going into tonight's second look at the Utah Jazz, the Raptors sit at 4-15, which is tied with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the second-worst record in the NBA.
Is tonight a must-win?
If you want to look at things with a looser and somewhat paranoid approach, how about we call it a "don't lose" game.
Or "stop losing"?
Maybe even a "please win"?
It could very well be all of the above too.
Jazz forwards Al Jefferson and Derrick Favors will both be game-time decisions. Jefferson had to be helped off the floor at the end of Wednesdays 87-81 win over the Orlando Magic due to back spasms. Favors has missed the last three games with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
Jefferson and Favors torched the Raptors back in November, combining for 39 points, 23 rebounds and 5 blocked shots.
Lord knows Toronto could use some sort of good fortune when it comes to the oppositions front courts destroying them down low.
It's going to be a difficult game regardless of who is available to play, as Utah joins the New York Knicks and Memphis Grizzlies as the only three teams in the association to have one or fewer losses on their home court.
So how can the Raptors pull off the upset later tonight?
It's time once again for The Triple W: Walders Winning Ways....
1) Kyle Lowry
In what very well could have been the difference in Toronto's triple-overtime loss to Utah a month ago, Kyle Lowry (the teams current leading scorer at 18.3) was sitting on the sidelines nursing an ankle injury.
That won't be the case this time as Lowry will be on the court suited up for the Raptors.
Kyle is coming off a stellar performance against the Kings on Wednesday night which saw the guard score 29 of his season-high 34 points in the second half. He also hit all 12 of his attempts from the charity stripe, grabbed five rebounds and dished out 11 assists in the process.
If he can build off of the momentum he created for himself in that amazing second half and carry it over into tonights game, the Raptors could find themselves in very good shape.
2) Defend The Perimeter
I don't think I need to remind anyone how badly Utah torched us from downtown last time.
Heck, even Paul Millsap got in on the action, nailing three of his four attempts from behind the arc. Primarily NOT a three-point specialist, it was very troubling to see him be so effective in that aspect of the game.
The Raptors are pretty terrible when it comes to defending the three in the first place, as the team sits fifth from the bottom in opponents three-point percentage (38.4%).
Utah collectively hit 14 three-pointers in the first game, so Toronto will need to make defending Jazz shooters a top priority, especially if Favors and/or Jefferson are unable to play.
3) Love him or hate him, we need him (for now)
You know who I'm talking about.
Mr. Primo Pasta himself, Andrea Bargnani, scored just eight points on 3 for 14 shooting from the field in his last game. He also grabbed a measly three rebounds.
Look, I realize that everyone and their grandmother want "Il Mago" shipped out of town as soon as possible, but as long as he's a member of this team, wins will be few and far between (which they are now, I suppose) unless he regains his confidence, finds his shooting touch (he's still shooting just 39% from the field) and returns to his old form (which wasn't overly great, but it was leaps and bounds better than where he's at now).
Andrea has scored eight or less points in two of his last three games. His scoring totals (4, 23, 8, 24) are all over the place that you may get dizzy just staring at them.
Is a little consistency to much to ask?
Bargnani can gain a lot of fans (maybe) back on his side if he puts up a strong effort tonight and the Raptors can manage to win the game.