After a wild finish against the Lakers on Sunday afternoon, the Raptors turn their attention to tonight's game. The New York Knicks are in town for this Valentines Day clash and you can expect no love to be shown between these divisional foes. The HQ's Sasha Kalra previews the action...
The Raptors just couldn't quite manage to win on Sunday as they failed to follow up a big win against the Celtics with a scalp of the Lakers. Lost in the frenzy was the play of Jose Calderon. He had arguably his best game of the season and will look to continue his strong play.
I find it quite amazing that I've managed to go so long into this preview without mentioning Jeremy Lin. His emergence as an NBA player has coincided with the Knicks' recent run and he has managed to effectively handle the pressure that comes with riding such hype. He recently claimed the NBA's Eastern Conference Player of the Week award, becoming the first player to win such an accolade in the NBA and the D-League.
But this one isn't all about Lin. Amar'e Stoudemire is set to return to the Knicks' lineup and it will be interesting to see how his presence alters the team's play. Lin has shown he is extremely difficult to contain when running a simple pick-and-roll with Tyson Chandler, and Stoudemire has years of experience running a similar play with one Steve Nash.
"I only see it helping. I don’t see it as a problem," said Mike D'Antoni when asked about how the return of Amare Stoudemire would mesh with Lin's play
As a direct result of "Linsanity" there will be more eyes than usual on an otherwise normal basketball game. The Raptors' PR crew yesterday tweeted that the media interest for the match is akin to a playoff game, and basketball fans will be tuning in to get a look at the growing legend of Jeremy Lin...not to mention seeing if the Knicks can remain undefeated with him as their starting point guard.
Toronto has a knack for playing well in "bigger" games so we'll see how they do in what's suddenly become a marquee showdown and with that here are the three keys to the game:
1) Linsanity: At this point in time it is very hard to tell whether Jeremy Lin is going to be an all star, a solid career backup, or simply a flash in the pan. What we do know, is that form, momentum and confidence are all important factors when analyzing a player. Lin currently has all 3 of those and will be looking to continue his great run of play. He has shown an ability to carve open teams from the top of the key and no doubt Dwane Casey will have focused a significant portion of practice watching film with his players and developing a plan to stop Lin. This is crucial tonight as minus Lin, the Knicks' offensive has been putrid in the hands of players like Toney Douglas, so keeping Lin at bay is a huge part of getting a W.
2) Interior Defense: Tyson Chandler has been playing at an All Star level all year and has continued on from his strong play in last season's playoffs. Amare Stoudemire is another proven post player who is returning after a week off. The two big men will be looking to grab offensive boards and attack the rim at all times and the Raptors' bigs will have to be alert. Amir Johnson played decent defense on Gasol last time out and Ed Davis had a solid game. Those two, alongside Aaron Gray and Jamaal Magloire will have to protect the rim at all costs if the Dinos plan on winning this one.
3) DeMar DeRozan: It feels like 1 in every 3 game previews that we have written this year has our 3rd year shooting guard listed as one of the keys to the game. He improved leaps and bounds offensively last season and had big expectations coming into this year. Andrea Bargnani's prolonged absence has only heightened the pressure on young DeMar's shoulders and he has given us mixed results so far. One great game is followed up by a no-show but Sunday's game gave us a different look at his capabilities. All things considered, he played decent defense on Kobe Bryant, and had a career high 7 assists. When his shot isn't falling he has shown an ability to drift through games, and making an impact without scoring is something he needs to continue to work on. He did it Sunday, and tonight, even if his shot isn't falling, the Raptors are going to need him to do it again.