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Tip- In: Raps Set the Pace Early Against Indiana

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In this afternoon's matinée, the Toronto Raptors brought both hustle and energy against the Indiana Pacers and for a change, the Raps managed to hold onto a lead for the WHOLE GAME, and come away with a 92-83 victory.

Yeah that’s not a typo. The Raptors held a team to less than 90 points and below 40 per cent shooting. In fact over the last three games, the Raps have held the opposing team to less than 100 points...and in that stretch they are 2-1. The only other time the Raps managed to hold a team to less than 100 points? The home opener against Milwaukee, which was, as we know, a W.

See a trend here?

Now if only they could bring this same defensive intensity to their road games.

Speaking of intensity, this has got to be the number one concern right now for Sam Mitchell and his staff. The Raps just looked pumped to play today and they came out guns-a-blazing. Before you could blink, the Raps were up 27 and completely in control of the game. Much of this lead was the result of the bench boys who really upped the ante in the second quarter and then later in the game. Andrea Bargnani showed some unbelievable things out there, Joey Graham continues to look like the player he was projected to develop into when he was drafted, Rasho played well in the post and generally the Raps could not have played much better. Staying on the intensity theme however, somehow, someway, during halftime, the Raps completely lost their focus, in particular the starters. At the beginning of the third quarter the offence went stagnant, they had ZERO assists nearly heading into the fourth quarter, and like most teams not used to winning, they allowed Indiana back into the game. Just as fast as they were up 27, they were up only four with three minutes left in the quarter.

Then things changed. Why? Jose Calderon.

We here at the HQ have numerous times asked the question, "Who is the second best player on the Raps?" The answer as of this moment, in my opinion is Jose Calderon. His ability to come into a game, re-energize the team and run the offence both in a half-court set and on the break is fan-freaking-tastic. Should he start? Well I think there is a good case for it but right now he is the perfect back-up PG who should continue to play that role but see more minutes than his counter-part. Calderon runs this offence better. Mitchell seems to agree. The evidence? At the three minute mark Ford brought the ball up the floor only to have Mitchell yell, "Give it to Calderon." How’s that for confidence in your supposed starting PG? Let’s not give ALL the credit to Calderon though as there is a lot of credit to go around amongst the bench. As the starters lost control over the game's momentum there was going to be serious pressure on the second unit to come in and re-establish the offence, go on a run, and put the nail in the coffin. Calderon and Graham did just that. Yes that same Joey Graham that people have been doubting on in a big way since the pre-season.

Joey Graham has improved almost as much as Calderon over the off-season. His defense is EXPONENTIALLY better, he rarely leaves his feet and is showing a much better understanding of defending the wing. On the offensive end he is being very aggressive, playing within the flow of the offence and you can see that he is beginning to use his body to his advantage. Will he be a star in the league? - doubtful, but he is becoming a solid contributor. There is no doubt he will disappear at times, but he is playing much better than last year and expect all of the haters to disappear in due course. This is a classic case of people expecting too much too soon. When all is said and done (and yes I am bias, I really like Joey G) I feel pretty confident that people won’t look back and say Babcock made a mistake when he chose him 16th over all...despite who was left on the board at the time.

And let's not forget Andrea Bargnani. Now that he's getting some minutes, fans are really getting a look at what this kid can do. Today was his best game yet (yes I realize we're saying that now after almost every game) as he played well on both ends of the court. He's in all likelyhood (until Mo Pete gets healthy) the Raptors' best long-range threat already and some of the things he did in this afternoon's match were incredible for a seven-footer. It's hard not to see some of the Dirk Diggler comparisons as he can score from beyond the arc, get to the rim and run the court in a similar manner. He also is improving defensively with each game and he and Rasho Nesterovic' length really bothered Indiana's interior play. In fact, Toronto's defence today was the best its been all season as they were aggressive in fronting post-players (one of the reasons the Raptors had 10 steals) and even out-rebounded the Pacers 49-43. When was the last time you remember that happening?

The question for the Raps now is simple. Can they start winning on the road? With seven of the next nine on the road they had better and there is no better time than against the Hornets who will be without their big off-season signing, Peja Stojakovic as well as David West. To put the importance of this road swing into perspective, the Atlantic Division leaders are BELOW .500. If the Raps can win three or four of the seven away games they will keep themselves in the hunt and will have fought through a tremendously difficult stretch of their schedule.

The one thing that may prevent that from happening though is CB4's knee. As commentator Leo Rautins suggested during the game, if the knee isn’t hurt, then why wear a brace? Should the Raps star need some serious rest this team will struggle to complete, let alone win.

The next nine games are extremely important for this team. This team is learning to win, learning to close out games, learning to keep track of the score, and now needs to learn how to win on the road. It is definitely a work in progress...and we're excited to see how it turns out.

HOWLAND