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3 In the Key – Toronto Raptors Game Day Preview vs. Hawks

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For some reason I don't think Horford will be this happy tonight facing an angry ACC crowd...

For some reason I don't think Horford will be this happy tonight facing an angry ACC crowd...

Three games over .500.

Two wins away from finishing with a 23 and 18 record, four wins ahead of last year’s team at the half-way point.

Any way you slice it, as a fan you have to be fairly content considering the injuries and various other issues the club has faced so far this season.

Look at the Miami Heat or Chicago Bulls in contrast.

There’s no way either of these clubs should be this bad on paper. Sure they’ve missed some key pieces, but both clubs have (had in the Bulls case) top-ranked coaches and star players and one has been bad, Chicago, and the other has been putrid, Miami.

The Heat have lost 11 straight and I couldn’t help but hearken back just a few seasons ago during the Raptors atrocious one and 16 start, with their lone win coming over Miami in an upset win. (Oh Loren Woods, where art thou?) Talk about the shoe being on the other foot.

The Raptors tonight face a team that knows all too well the current woes of both the Heat and the Bulls and have finally started to emerge from the NBA’s Department of Scorn and Ridicule. Yes, we’re talking about the Atlanta Hawks.

Are these Hawks for real? Well, that was my first question to Matt from Hotlanta in our weekly "A Conversation With the Enemy – 3 Questions with the Opponent Blogger" series:

RaptorsHQ: 1) This is the first year in a while that Atlanta has made some noise in the East - is this Hawks team for real? They beat Denver one night and lose to Milwaukee the next, is this simply a sign of a young team? These Hawks are "for real". They are still young and very inconsistent, but they definitely have the talent to run with any team in the league. If the players and Coach Woodson "get it"- they have way too much trouble getting up for certain games, and for whatever reason this team does not try to run the ball (Denver made them run in the first half the other night and the Hawks killed them).

RaptorsHQ: 2) What has/have been the biggest factor(s) in Atlanta's success this year? Al Horford is a rookie of the year candidate. He may not be an all-star, but he is a quality player, particularly on the defensive boards. The team has also been relatively healthy, although Zaza and Lue have missed a bunch of games (and that doesn't count the $6 million paperweight known as "Speedy" Claxton). The Hawks played without Marvin Williams for the beginning of last season, missed the Joshes for extended periods of time, and Joe Johnson missed the last 20 something games of the season.

RaptorsHQ: 3) How do you see the game against Toronto unfolding? What are the keys to a Hawks win? Toronto has had Atlanta's number for the past few years, and Bosh seems to enjoy stepping it up against the pro team from the college town he left behind. After cheering Bosh during his freshman year and thinking he was stupid for going pro, perhaps he is just sticking it in my face. Repeatedly.

I hope that not much is made of the Horford-Ford incident from December, as I think Horford felt bad enough about what happened. Quick, scoring point guards tend to put up season-high numbers against the Hawks, but now that Anthony Johnson is getting serious minutes that hasn't been as much of an issue. Atlanta has improved since the last matchup with the Raptors and will be rested, so I am predicting a 94-86 win for the Hawks.

A shout out to Matt for his answers although I’m going to have to disagree with him on the end result tonight. Toronto has been playing well of late and as mentioned above, have been sticking it to the Atliens the past few seasons. If they can get a similar effort from their bench as they did against Sacramento, this should be their fifth win in their last six games. Let’s start with the bench then in our three keys:

1. Bench Play. One of the reasons Toronto dominated the Kings on Wednesday night was that no matter who came off the bench for the Raptors, they seemed to help rack up the score. Sure Sacto’s defense was nothing to write home about, but the bench played loose but aggressive on offence, and stuck to their individual games without trying to do too much. On paper Toronto’s depth greatly overshadows that of the Hawks and it will be important to get that kind of boost again against an athletic Atlanta club. If you’ve noticed of late, and many of our readers have pointed this out, Sam Mitchell has been trying to use Jose at the end of quarters to help close them out and also so that he plays when the second unit first comes into the game. This has helped the subs get good looks and get into the flow of the game, a great decision by Coach Sam, and I’ll be looking to see players like Delfino, Kapono and Humphries have a definite impact on tonight’s final score.

2. B and B. The B and B stands for Bosh and Bargnani, two players for Toronto tonight that could be the deciding factors. Al Horford (who I expect to be booed mercilessly tonight) has had a great rookie campaign but can’t guard Bosh at this point, especially with the way CB4 has been playing. Marvin Williams isn’t the answer either and I expect the long and athletic Smith to help out on Mr. Bosh. This means that Andrea should have every opportunity to make plays and get into the offence. The Hawks will be concentrating on Bosh so he needs to take advantage. He played better last game, especially around the rim, and has the size and shooting ability to make Horford and co. pay. I’m looking forward to an aggressive Andrea tonight as he continues to find his game.

Let's keep this guy on the perimeter tonight um K?

Let's keep this guy on the perimeter tonight um K?