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3 In the Key – Toronto Raptors’ Game-Day Preview vs. CSKA Moscow

Preseason is a funny thing to try and comment on.

It's hard not to discuss a team’s play without sounding too negative, and it's hard to be too upbeat about the play of certain players because well…it is preseason.

So as a result you sort of get stuck in a type of holding pattern where you’re probably overly critical of some players’ mistakes, those who are shaking off the rust usually, and probably not watching others judiciously enough.

With the Toronto Raptors so far, I’m sure Howland and I have been guilty of both.

Bargs looked reborn until his last game, Adams has been a non-factor, and others like Solomon have been up and down. Will these current levels of play continue on into the season? At this point it’s anyone’s guess.

Further complicating matters is that Toronto plays possibly two games this preseason against non-NBA teams. I’m guessing neither of these matches will give us a real idea of the regular season version of the Dinos either.

However if either game is close in the fourth quarter, there still could be a lot we as fans can learn. Even if Sam Mitchell sticks with his bench late in the game, it could give us an idea of this year’s club’s mental makeup, something that was hardly a strong point for the team last year. CSKA Moscow, tonight’s opponent, is hardly a team that will go softly into the night so I expect a good battle. (Hoops World Blog has more info on the CSKA tour here as well as additional coverage on the team itself and arrival in Toronto.)

CSKA has been one of the Euroleague’s premier teams for the past few years and features former NCAA stars like Trajan Langdon, JR Holden, Terrence Morris and Sasha Kaun, in addition to former NBA’ers like Viktor Khryapa, Zoran Planinic and Erazem Lorbek. No, not quite the Argentian National team, but it’s not your old-school Cold War Russian team from the Sean Connery era of James Bond either, Toronto can’t take this game too lightly.

So with that in mind, let’s take a look at some questions for tonight ala the James Bond Classic, "From Russia With Love…"

1) Trajan Langdon was known at Duke as the Alaskan Assassin; does this make him Red Grant, the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. assassin who specialized in choking out his victims?

Hmmm…I suppose so. Langdon was always a deadly shooter from anywhere on the court, but he just couldn’t put the whole package together in the NBA. He’s found tremendous success with this Russian team however and has been a Euroleague star ever since. In many ways actually, his game is quite similar to that of another former Euroleague star and current Raptor, Anthony Parker. Neither are tremendous athletes or slashers but both can make you pay if you give them room to shoot.

The next question then is, if Langdon is the main choking assassin from the film, who plays Rosa Klebb, the "knife-in-the-shoe" wielding S.P.E.C.T.R.E. villainess? Holden?

2) In "From Russia With Love," Bond and Her Majesty’s Secret Service is after the Russian’s top-secret device, the Lectre Decoder. In tonight’s game, what is Toronto’s goal?

I think there are a few things that Sam Mitchell and co. will be going after tonight. At the top of this list, improved defensive play in transition. Against Philly, the Raptors’ bigs in particular got burnt numerous times by not getting back to cover their men. At other times, they were out of position on rotations and this made for some easy dunks and lay-ups under the rim. Obviously some of this comes with simply getting to know your teammates better and understanding where they are going to be on the court but another big chunk comes from effort. At times against the 76ers it looked like certain players were much more interested in the offensive end of the court than the defensive one.

The other thing that I think will be interesting to watch tonight, is the point guard play. Roko Ukic failed to get off the pine against Philadelphia and you have to wonder if Solomon hasn't taken things over completely in terms of backing up Jose. I for one would still like to see what Roko can do, and this may be a perfect opportunity tonight. Ukic of course has played against many of these players the past few seasons in Europe and this might give him the boost of confidence he needs.

3) Any chance we'll see a fight break out tonight at the ACC between two stunning gypsy women?

Um...highly doubtful.

I think this is where we draw the line between the Bond movie and tonight's game...

Don't expect this type of ferocity tonight at the ACC...

Don't expect this type of ferocity tonight at the ACC...

4) Could this game come down to a match of minds between MI6 head M, and S.P.E.C.T.R.E. head Ernst Blofeld?

It’s quite possible. While Sam Mitchell undoubtedly has the superior talent on his side, CSKA head coach Ettore Messina is one of the most revered basketball minds in both the NBA and Euroleague. While his coaching abilities were no match for Dwight Howard and the Magic’s size in their first exhibition game, I expect him to have his team ready to compete tomorrow night. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Messina try an interesting match-up or two considering the shooting range of some of his bigs and this might be a good time for Sam Mitchell to mix things up too.

Now if Messina would just show up with a shaved head, monocle and white cat…


PS - The next round of NBA previews are up at and the following are links to each:

Dallas Mavericks: Mavs Moneyball

Houston Rockets: The Dream Shake

Memphis Grizzlies: 3 Shades of Blue

New Orleans Hornets: