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Game-Day Preview - Raptors vs. Wizards

Some great discussion on the site yesterday concerning the "what if?" factor in regards to the Raptors’ past.

What if Alonzo Mourning had decided to come to Toronto?

What if the Raps had held onto Chauncey Billups?

What if Yogi Stewart played like he did in Sacramento and became the shot-blocking machine he was projected to be?

Ok, obviously I jest concerning Yogi but nevertheless this franchise has indeed seen its share of strange twists of fate in the past decade plus...

...I’m just hoping that the injury to Jorge Garbajosa doesn’t become one of them.

Minus Garbs on Wednesday night the Raptors cruised along, laying a beating on the Miami Heat. Tonight they face another crucial test in the Washington Wizards and hopefully the team is once again up to the challenge minus two of their best players. Raptor fans certainly don’t need the season to turn into a case of "what if Andrea Bargnani and Garbajosa were only healthy down the stretch..."

Bargnani was actually back at practice yesterday for some light shooting and spoke to the media concerning his return. It seems like doctors have given him the "thumbs up" to begin some light work and if things go as planned, he could be back in practice as early as next week.

Of course Il Mago wouldn’t entertain comparisons to his team-mate Garbajosa’s situation stating that he "was was just an appendix." From the sounds of it, Jorge is still hoping to be back for this summer’s European Basketball Championship and already, various urban legends about his injury and recovery process have started to spread.

But turning away from injury talk and focussing on tonight’s game, I’m hoping to see a similar effort to that of Wednesday night this evening. A Toronto win would go a long way in determining their final seeding come playoff time (it would give the Raps a 3-1 series edge over the Wiz) and would put some more distance between themselves and the other teams looking for a top three spot.

Last night the Chicago Bulls edged the Detroit Pistons in what was a technical foul filled, closely contested affair (which was funny considering TNT's next game, Phoenix and Golden State, had the same score at half as the Bulls and Pistons did in the fourth quarter) and Chicago now finds itself only a few games back of Cleveland for second in the East. I for one am rooting for the Bulls as the season wears on as this would be the best-case scenario for the Raptors. If Chicago moves into second, the Cavs would drop all the way to fifth potentially and the two teams I least want Toronto to face in the first round, would thus be seated atop of Toronto in the standings and avoided as first round opponents.

Of course the Raptors can only control their own destiny in so far as winning as many of their remaining games as possible starting tonight against the Wiz. Washington, as we’ve seen on three occasions now, can put up point in a hurry but also are one of the league’s biggest sieves defensively. Last time these teams met Washington’s offence over-powered the Raptors and players like Antonio Daniels made huge unexpected contributions to lead the Wizards to victory. Washington also pounded Toronto inside and on the glass (49 to 27) and therefore key number 1 tonight – Kris Humphries and the Raptors’ rebounding.

Humphries had his best game of the year against Miami and I’m expecting a similar effort this evening. Even if Humpty Hump doesn’t grab seven offensive boards, I’m hoping to see him playing solid defence down low, hitting the glass and keeping the likes of Jamison and Haywood in check. In fact the Raptors as a collective need to rebound the ball just like they did against Miami and keep the Wizards from getting out on the break and second chance opportunities.

The second thing I’ll be watching for tonight is Chris Bosh. Bosh has been back to his All-Star level of play lately (with the exception of the brick-fest in Boston) and he’s going to be a huge key in tonight’s game. Last time these teams met his defense on Antawn Jamison was porous to say the least and as a result Jamison dropped 25 on the Raps to spur the Wiz. CB4 is going to need to tighten the screws on this side of the court and take the ball aggressively to the hole on the other this evening.

Last - bench play. Toronto’s bench has been noticeably shorter due to injury however needs to keep providing a boost for the Raptors’ starting crew. I’m still looking to see more from both Mo Pete and Joey Graham however it was nice to see both players on Wednesday night attempting to take the ball to the rim instead of settling for long-range shots. Washington’s bench isn’t deep but their big three of Arenas, Butler and Jamison more than make up for this and I’m looking for a balanced scoring attack once again from Toronto. The Raptors have done a relatively good job of keeping Arenas in check so far this season but even if he does have a classic "Agent Zero" type performance, that could easily be negated by superior bench play from Toronto.

Finally, lost in all of the injury and ranking talk is the fact that a win tonight would mark Toronto’s 40th this season. 40 WINS? When the season started who would have imagined this? In fact it’s almost impossible that Toronto won’t reach that mark and thinking back to last year’s 27 wins, this is a huge accomplishment that can’t be understated. The best Raptor team ever wins-wise was the 2000-2001 squad which won 47 games. Can this year’s squad approach that mark?

A win tonight will go a long way in terms of finding out...