There was a great comment the other night about how the Raptors are "playing to their record" again.
It pretty much well hit the nail right on the head.
With the Raptors winning just three of their last six games, the Raptors lost an opportunity to gain significant ground against their Eastern Conference rivals. And while some people talked about how the Raptors were simply beating up on teams with sub .500 records, I'd argue that's exactly what the Raptors needed to do to get back into the swing of things.
However, over the last little while, the list of Raptors I'd say I'd put on an "untouchable" list or at least "extremely high value" list has changed over the last little while.
For example, Ed Davis is clearly now someone that I want the Raptors to keep for a long time. He's finished December averaging 10 PPG along with 6.9 boards in 26 minutes of action. He's not quite scaling up in January even with increased playing time (35 minute average now), but his defensive rebounding rate is among the best in the league. That's better than both David Lee and Blake Griffin.
It's why all this talk about using Ed Davis to trade for Rudy Gay has me all up in arms lately.
I'd also say that while Ed Davis has completely won me over, Terrence Ross is showing flashes of the kind of special player he could possibly become in the next while.
That's not to say there hasn't been, and won't be hiccups. Last game, for example, was probably a game Ross could have done without. That being said, having a wing who can score and can play defense, who will hopefully mature over the next few years, is what the Raptors have been looking for and haven't had since Carlos Delfino.
Both look to figure big into the Raptors' future and if you're going to trade away either player, you better be getting some top tier talent in return.
Looking at tonight's game, we see a very difficult team for the Raptors to win against.
New Jersey Brooklyn Nets were far from a picture of a healthy team earlier in the year, and the Raptors lost to them. In fact, it was winning against the Raptors that spurned them into a 10-4 record since the last time these two teams met. Unknown right now is if Gerald Wallace will be returning to the lineup, but even without him, the Raptors will be in for a tough game.
Here are the keys to tonight's win
1) 3 Point Shooting - Over the last five games, the Raptors have seen a drop in their 3 point shooting by about 3-4%. Part of that is because guys like Terrence Ross and Alan Anderson are streaky shooters and don't always make a ton of buckets. However, it's also incumbent that Kyle Lowry get back into the offensive groove again as he has not found his comfort zone when we've needed him the most.
I've also found it weird, but unlike a lot of other teams, the Raptors seldom make threes from the corners, and instead utilize the top of the arc instead for most of their 3 point shots. It's something I'd like to take a look at more in the future, but it's something that's been bothering me for the past few years.
In fact, I'd say since Anthony Parker has left the team, they haven't used the corner three as much as they used to.
2) Turnovers - Once again, this stat is up to 14 per game over the last five games. Although these stats don't seem like a huge change (+3 difference compared to the last 15 games) the Raptors have also struggled putting up as high of an offensive output as they were against weaker teams.
Specifically, they're averaging 3 points per game lower in the last five games when compared to the last 15, while allowing their opponents to score 2 points per game more over the same period.
The Raptors are not a team who should be having a problem with turnovers since they've been among the best in the league. They certainly can't afford additional turnovers if their scoring efficacy is going down.
3) Beware the Three Headed Dragon + 1 - Over the course of January, the Nets have found their scoring touch, averaging over 107 points per game. Their primary scorers being Joe Johnson (20 ppg), Deron Williams (19.5 ppg), and Brook Lopez (18.5 ppg). It'll mean that the Raptors cannot simply rely on switches this game, especially since Jose Calderon often requires help against his opponent.
However, one of their strongest weapons is still Andray Blatche. As one of their most efficient scorers, he is a dangerous big body who the Raptors will have trouble controlling.