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3 In the Key – Toronto Raptors Game Day Preview vs. 76ers

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Apologies for the late postings the past two days but I’ve been forced to finish over lunch between training sessions at my 9 to 5 gig. Perhaps one day this site will BE the 9 to 5 gig for Howland and I but until then, we’ll just have go with the flow.

In an unusual scenario, the Toronto Raptors face the Philadelphia 76ers tonight in what’s starting to look like a must-win January game for the Dinos. Toronto has dropped their last two, including as we all know, a horrific collapse to the Cavs on Sunday and things in the East are really starting to tighten up for playoff spots. This means that Toronto needs to start putting together a string of wins if they want to separate themselves from the pack. Around this time last year Toronto was really starting to gel, get healthy and hit their stride which enabled them to roll towards the playoffs.

This year the Raps haven’t been able to do that as of yet but with games against the Knicks, Kings, Hawks and these same 76ers again in the next 10 days, Toronto has a chance to get back on track.

In fact besides a date in Detroit with the Pistons and their final meeting with the Celtics on January 23rd, there is a real opportunity here for this club to step up and be counted amongst the best in the East. The Hawks, Nets and Wizards remain as inconsistent as Toronto, the Heat and Bulls are already seeing the playoff light at the end of the tunnel disappear and Orlando is in a free-fall as well.

The Magic executed a near-miraculous comeback last night against the Kings but in the end came up short. It reminded me once again of just how impressive Lebron’s performance was in Cleveland’s comeback Sunday as he was solely responsible for erasing Toronto’s lead. In the Kings-Magic game last night it was a group affair as everyone from Dwight Howard to JJ Redick got in on the action.

Speaking of JJ and the Magic, while watching the game another interesting idea for a trade crept into my head regarding the back-up point guard situation. What about Keyon Dooling? The Magic have three border-line starting caliber point guards at this time and will probably need an upgrade at some point if they wish to take the next step as a club. Watching the team last night it’s obvious that neither of the three are getting the job done. The other thing is that it’s criminal that JJ Redick doesn’t play more, and I’m not simply saying this as a Duke and JJ fan. He’s averaging only about nine minutes a game yet shooting almost 47 per cent from the field and 85 per cent from the line. He came in for the Magic in desperation time last night and was lights out scoring 10 points in eight minutes on 50 per cent shooting.
It got me wondering if a deal of Kapono and Martin would bring both Redick and Dooling to Toronto. JJ is essentially the same player as Kapono only smaller and better at creating his own shot. He would be a lot cheaper as well and on a shorter contract. Dooling would essentially be a rental as his deal is up at the end of the year giving BC some extra money to work with for Jose and Carlos Delfino. And of course, Dooling could both initiate the offense for the second unit, score, and play the 2 in a pinch. Some may say like Luther Head (who went off last night for Houston) that he’s no more of a point guard than Juan Dixon but that’s not true. Both Head and Dooling played the 1 in college at Illinois and Missouri respectively. Dixon on the other hand never played point at Maryland as Steve Blake was his back-court-mate. Therefore it’s really no surprise that Dixon has struggled as he’s basically trying to learn the position as a 29 year-old veteran.

And wouldn’t the Magic jump on this? Another proven perimeter scorer would shore up a Magic second-unit in need of help, Martin would play the third-stringer role for the rest of the season, and hey, Kap-One could get his tan back in Florida!

This is a trade I’d do in a flash if it was available, especially because it deals with the immediate point guard situation, yet also helps the club’s future financially. Some would perhaps feel that moving Kapono would be akin to BC admitting he made a mistake when he signed the former Bruin sharp-shooter but I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s more a case of "hey, this trade makes sense for the club and would improve its current and future situations."

The big thing for Colangelo besides the long-term outlook of TJ Ford is going to be salary issues. In the back of his mind the Legomaster knows that he needs to have enough money to keep Calderon and possibly Delfino around so taking on a large contract is highly improbable.

Wouldn't Franchise be happy to see JJ in a Raptors uniform?

Wouldn't Franchise be happy to see JJ in a Raptors uniform?

This 76ers team is one of the worst in the league, 26th in offensive efficiency in fact, and that’s where our first key to the game starts.

1. Force this team to shoot jumpers. While Louis Williams is starting to look like a legit NBA player the rest of the 76ers amount to perhaps the best group of chuckers in the league. Willie Green? Rodney Carney? Reggie Evans? Even both Andre’s, Miller and Iguodala are hardly snipers. If the Raptors can limit Philly’s penetration to the hoop and easy put-backs, this should be a romp. Let’s hope we see the same sort of defensive intensity that we saw from Toronto against Cleveland…except minus Lebron James and through four quarters this time.

2. Rebound the basketball. It didn’t take a genius to know this would be one of the keys, especially in the wake of the Cleveland fiasco. Philly is a fairly good rebounding club with players like Evans and Samuel Dalembert (who will apparently be honoured tonight) capable of grabbing 10+ boards easily. The Raptors need to keep these guys off the glass and therefore I’m hoping that Andrea Bargnani is over his flu and ready to do the dirty work in the trenches. If not, this game sets up as a perfect one for lots of Hump.

3. Second Unit play. Another gimmie. Philadelphia is not a deep club and therefore Toronto should have an advantage in this realm. However the second unit has hurt the Raptors of late and I’ll be quite interested to see which second unit shows up tonight. If Dixon struggles and once again the bench is a non-factor, this means 40 + minutes for Jose and co. again this evening.

I’m not quite ready to pencil this in as a W quite yet, but there’s absolutely no reason Toronto on paper should lose this game. As we’ve mentioned on the site, any team is capable of beating another in the NBA though so in a way, this is a true test of the Raptors mental toughness. Can they bounce back at home from a bad loss that perhaps has festered over the past few days?

I guess we’ll find out in a few hours.