The Toronto Raptors face the Boston Celtics tonight in Boston in what may be one of their most important games of the season. The Celtics field a similar squad to the Raptors in terms of experience and on paper seem like the best shot for a 1 in the win column for the 0-8 Raptors considering Toronto's next slate of games. Paul Pierce is still one of the league's most dominant players but his supporting cast is well...young. If the Raptors starters can keep the score close early on then for once the Raptors won't be trying to climb out of a hole in the final period. While the Raptors have had defensive issues to start the season, so have the Celtics. Boston has allowed it's last two opponents to shoot 52 and 55 percent respectively and therefore it stands to reason that tonight's victor will be determined on the defensive end of the court. The Raptors should be able to win the battle of the boards against this Boston squad who does not have a solid interior presence...well...unless you count Mark Blount. Once again it will be essential to get touches to Chris Bosh and Charlie Villanueva down low and Joey Graham will probably have the unenviable task of guarding the likes of Pierce and Ricky Davis all night. Graham faced Pierce twice in the preseason however, and should be more prepared at this point to handle the duties. Expect to see the Raptors play Jose Calderon and red hot Mike James together for extended periods and they should have an advantage over Boston's inexperienced point guards. Boston however, is a very athletic squad and it will be CRUCIAL for the Raptors to play smart defensively and not get drawn into letting the Celtic shoot 60 free throws as they did in pre-season.
With a loss tonight the Raptors streak would extend to 9 games and with teams like Miami, Memphis, the suddenly hot Clippers and Phoenix on tap, there may not be a win in sight. This prospect has the rumour mill turning at full speed with hints that the Toronto braintrust will have to make a move sooner rather then later.
One of the players whose name has come up more then others, is Jalen Rose. Rose's play so far this season has made him seemingly expendable however his contract is still quite difficult to move due to its size. In all likelihood Rose will play out the remainder of this season with the Raptors and perhaps be moved around mid-season next year when his contract is about to run out. With Rose's current play that may indeed be the only motivating factor for another team to acquire him.
Perhaps the Raptor we should be most concerned about during this losing however is their coach, Sam Mitchell. Mitchell is apparently not getting much sleep during the losing streak and must be completely frustrated with the losses. This is especially true considering the passion and desire he brought to the game as a player, and how he's now running a team which has with the exception of a few players, displayed very little of those qualities.
The Raptors have announced for the first time in their history that they are going to be sending one of their players down to the NBA's Developmental League. Second year forward and RaptorsHQ favourite Pape Sow will begin a stint with the NBDL's Arkansas RimRockers in hopes of getting the athletic forward more playing time. Sow's rebounding and defensive intensity would seem like a good fit with this, at times, lethargic Raptors squad. Management feels however, that Sow needs more seasoning before getting steady NBA minutes. All of us here at the HQ wish Pape the best and will be monitoring his stats in hopes of seeing his return to the Raptors sooner rather then later.