Make no mistake about it; this is an important game for the Toronto Raptors.
Let's face it - the Raptors looked flat out horrible on Friday night against the Derrick Roseless Chicago Bulls. The Bulls came out and punched them in the face right from the get-go. Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer had their way with Toronto's starting frontcourt and really set the tone for the rest of the game.
The Raptors can learn a thing or two from the way the Bulls played against them. If Toronto is going to have any shot at beating the red-hot Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, they are going to need to get the jump on them early and set the tone from the opening tip.
With that in mind, here are the three keys to the game:
1) Set the Tone Early: This is really me reiterating what I wrote above, but it will be the most important facet of the game for Toronto. How they play in the first eight minutes of this game will go a long way in determinging the outcome.
This contest will be another one of the classic Sunday afternoon 1p.m starts that catch most visiting teams off-guard. The Raptors are going to need to use this to their advantage and build up a sizeable lead in the opening quarter. This means establishing Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan going to the basket in the first few possessions.
2) Control the paint:
This is something that the Raptors failed to do on Friday, but will once again be paramount against the Blazers. LaMarcus Aldridge is a force down low, averaging 21.9 points and 9.1 rebounds to lead the team this season. In the offseason, Portland brought in a nice complimentary player at centre in Robin Lopez who will, at the very least, present a big body for Valanciunas to match up with.
3) Move the ball:
This is perhaps the most obvious key, and one that will likely be mentioned in just about every preview this year. It's a simple concept -- when you move the ball, the defense moves and if you do it properly, they move out of position and open shots become easier to get. The biggest problem with the Raptors offense is that they are not doing this and the shots that they are getting are, by and large, difficult, semi-contested jumpers.
This means, Kyle Lowry, Rudy Gay and DeRozan especially are going to have to make the conscious effort to share the ball at least a little more. In the end, it will be beneficial for each of them.
But, then again, hoping for that may end up just being a pipe dream.