The Toronto Raptors will attempt to end their futility with a win tonight over the Philadelphia 76ers in Philly. The 76ers are streaking in the opposite direction having won their last 4 games after dropping their first 3. While the 0-6 start to the season has been ugly, the Raptors aren't close to many of the worst losing streaks in NBA history or overall won/loss records at this point. In fact Raptors' assistant coach Jim Todd has plenty of horror stories from his days of coaching a Los Angeles Clipper team that started 0-17! Todd however states that the current Raptors' team has better talent and chemistry then that PaperClips squad and can't see them matching the 0-17 futility mark. Hopefully he's right as more losses may drive him back to scouring locker rooms and bench areas for pennies.
In effort to stem the tide of losses Raptors' coach Sam Mitchell has been tinkering with the lineup. Morris Peterson was re-inserted into the starting lineup for Sunday's loss to Seattle and more changes may be forthcoming. The problem is that with injuries to Alvin Williams and Eric Williams, the Raptors are short-staffed at the guard positions to some degree and it may become an issue GM Rob Babcock will have to address if it continues.
Amongst the lineup tinkering, expect to see increased minutes given to Charlie Villanueva. CV Smooth was maybe Toronto's best player aside from Mike James against Seattle and credited his brother's pre-game words as his inspiration. The Raptors will need more of the rookie out of UConn tonight against the 76ers if they want to finally get that W on the board.
Another Raptors' rookie, point guard Jose Calderon, has been playing a ton of minutes as well and expect this to continue. In fact he'll likely play a good many minutes alongside Mike James. The two were very effective against Seattle on Sunday and as long as the two don't wear down, this may indeed be the permanent fourth quarter backcourt combo for the team. Calderon's passing ability and court vision make him a good fit with the more "score-first" James and have grabbed him the #4 spot on NBA.com's rookie rankings. Incidentally CV Smooth is right behind Calderon at number 5.
The Raptor's Number 5, Jalen Rose, has had his share of troubles so far this season both on-court and off. He spent last Saturday dealing with the death of a very good friend and his play Sunday showed as much. Rose has struggled with his shot so far this season and his play has been one of the key factors in the Raptors 0-6 start.
Tonight's game vs. Philly should be another good test for the Raptors. While Philly has star power in Allen Iverson and Chris Webber, the two have still not been able to perfectly gel on offence. In addition, so far hot shot Kyle Korver hasn't been the consistent long range threat that he was last season and the 76ers have nay a dominant interior presence thanks to an injury to Samuel Dalembert. Therefore the Raptors should be able to win the battle of the boards and put some serious pressure on the 76ers interior. The key to this game, as is every game vs. the 76ers, will be to contain Allen Iverson's penetration. AI is one of the best in the league at getting to the free throw line and after giving up 49 foul shots against Seattle, the Raptors MUST do a better job defending against this. In addition, penetrations by Iverson will allow the necessary spacing the 76ers need for kickouts to Korver or slashes by Andre Iguodala.
From the Raptors' side therefore, Mike James will need to be on his best defense against AI and he and Calderon must continue to pound the ball downlow to Chris Bosh and Charlie Villanueva. Oh...and an appearance from last year's Jalen Rose wouldn't hurt either if the Raptors want to get out of the NBA cellar...