Raptors vs. Nets Preview: The "Will Losing Tonight REALLY Make a Difference?" Edition

Stopping Kris Humphries will be a tall task for James Johnson

Looking for a piece on how the Raptors can best tank tonight? The HQ's Sean Tepper sees things differently...

Well folks, the end of the 2011-12 NBA season is finally upon us; and to think that there was a very real possibility that there would be no season at all.

Looking back at this past season may be painful for some people, but not for me. Sure there were injuries, false-hope and a good amount of heartbreak, but all-in-all I would say that this season as a successful one and that's because of one man.

Dwane Casey has given me a reason to believe in our once dysfunctional franchise; so much, that I believe that the Raptors can be a competitive team as early as next year and a legitimate playoff contender the following season. After all, he managed to take a young and inexperienced roster and turn them into the ninth best defense in the league.

But enough about looking back at this season, we still have one more game to go.

In addition to their identical 22-43 records, the Toronto Raptors and the New Jersey Nets have both been plagued with injuries throughout the course of this shortened season. As Raptors fan know all too well, Andrea Bargnani has only managed to play in 31 games this season due to a calf injury while Brook Lopez has only played in five games due to both a foot and ankle issues.

I do not believe in intentionally losing a basketball game for the possibility of having a higher draft pick. Plain and simple.

With that being said, I am not ignorant as to why a lot of Raptors fans would like to see their beloved team lose tonight, but for a team as young and impressionable as the Raptors, ending the season on a high note would go a long way in instilling confidence into an organization that in the midst of a total rebuild.

Beating the soon to be Brooklyn Nets at home to cap off the season would make a huge statement to the players, the fans and every other team in the league.

It would show everyone that the Toronto Raptors have forgotten about their losing ways, turned over a anew leaf and are mentally prepared to become a winning franchise.

Here are the three keys to tonight's game.

1) Neutralize MarShon Brooks: With Deron Williams done for the season due to a calf injury, Brooks is the only real offensive threat on the court for the Nets. Playing without Williams and alongside an injured Gerald Wallace, Brooks has managed to score double digits in eight of his past eleven games and has averaged 16.5 points over the past six games. If the Raptors can shut down the former Providence Bruin and limit him to less-than 10 points, their defense should have no problem shutting down New Jersey's offense.

2) Crash the Boards: Who in the right mind would have thought that after leaving the Raptors three years ago, Kris Humphries-Kardashian would be one of the NBA's premiere rebounders (statistically speaking of course). Averaging 11 rebounds a game and close to 14 points per game, Humphries has been a pleasant surprise for a team with very little to be happy about. Although the Raptors probably wish that they still had Humphries, Ed Davis and James Johnson will have to continue to rebound the ball effectively of the Raptors are to win their season finale. While Davis continues to impress, Johnson has really come into his own this season as the former Bulls first-round draft pick had 22 points and a career-high 13 rebounds in Monday's loss to Milwaukee.

3) Play for Pride: It kills me to use such a cliché sports line as the header for this key, but it's extremely appropriate. As it's continuously pointed out, both of these teams have nothing to play for but if Toronto can come out on top tonight, the organization would finally prove to its fan base that they are serious about building a competitive and winning basketball team.

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