Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
The Toronto Raptors continue their west coast road trip as they take their talents to the Staples Center to play the Pacific Division-leading Clippers. The HQ's Sasha Kalra attempts to put together a coherent preview.
The Raptors lost their ninth straight game on the road against the Jazz last time out. They gave up 131 points to an above average, but my no means elite, Jazz squad. If they play the same way against the Los Angeles Clippers this afternoon, than this one could be over by the end of the 1st quarter.
Think about the last 5 seasons of Toronto Raptors basketball. At some point in the first couple of months, the team goes on a somewhat long west coast road trip. You become conditioned to hearing some of the media personnel that cover the team say things like "If they could get a couple of wins" or "if they could split the series of games" than the team's woes would be put behind them. When was the last time the Raptors came back from a trip like this having even won a game?
Most of the noise in LA has been coming from the more-glamorous Lakers this year. They've managed to fire a coach, anger a Hall of Fame coach and team legend, and hire an unconvincing replacement. All of this is being done while your All Star Power Forward is being made to be a scapegoat and has his name being thrown in trade rumors surrounding the likes of Andrea Bargnani and Jeff Green.
All of the drama surrounding the Lakers seems to have made some fans forget about the Clippers. These Clippers were one of the most hyped up basketball teams in recent memory after their coming out party last season and they currently lead the Pacific Division. They defeated the Suns last night in convincing fashion and contain threats all over the floor. They possess one of the better benches in the association and Jamal Crawford has gained notoriety in these parts for his hand in some ugly Toronto losses.
As usual, here are the 3 keys to a highly unlikely win:
1) Isolate Blake Griffin: Chris Paul's arrival made Blake Griffin's job much easier. He didn't have as much of an onus to create his own shot as he had Paul driving down the lane and creating space. He was able to get out and run more and didn't have to play with his back to the basket that much. San Antonio highlighted this weakness in his game in the playoffs last year as they forced Griffin to create his own shot and almost dared him to shoot at times. This will require a team effort on defence and it could swing the game in the Dino's direction.
2) Point Guard Play: Kyle Lowry started off the season on fire. He cooled off a bit after returning from injury but he's been getting closer to his best in recent games. He'll have to be at his best tonight as he's going to be matched up against a truly elite player. Chris Paul has a tendency to start games a bit lackadaisical and Vinny Del Negro has repeatedly told him to be more aggressive at the beginning of contests. Lowry should be looking to set the tone early and give the team some breathing room before the inevitable collapse occurs.
3) Pride: The performance against the Jazz was one of the flattest team showings in a very long time. The lack of effort was noticeable and games like that won't be winning over any neutrals. Dwayne Casey needs to do whatever it takes to get this group motivated for the rest of the season. What's Don Cherry doing these days? Is there any chance we can get him in the locker room before the game to teach these guys a thing or two about pride and effort?