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

Can Mitchell's troops rebound tonight after a tough loss in Boston?

Can Mitchell's troops rebound tonight after a tough loss in Boston?

There were cries for Sam Mitchell’s head.

Shouts of fury over Bosh’s fourth quarter passivity.

And calls for the return of the Gangsta himself, Primoz Brezec.

Yep, just another day in Raptorland.

Toronto may not have beaten the Boston Celtics Monday night, but the resulting in-depth dissection of the club may have been worth the Raptors’ third loss in four games. We’re seven games into the 2008-09 NBA season and already fans have a pretty good idea of the club’s strengths and shortcomings and have been volleying around various ideas about how to maximize the former and minimize the latter.

Therefore tonight’s game against the 76ers is going to be an interesting test for the Dinos.

On one hand, Toronto may come off the close loss to the Celtics feeling confident that they can beat any team in the league.

On the other, they may experience a let-down of epic proportions, something this club has been known to do in the past.

And while Toronto’s opponent is no slouch, they haven’t exactly set the NBA on fire so far this season. The addition of Elton Brand to the city of brotherly love was supposed to transform this club into a contender in the East, not leave them sitting at the bottom of the conference with two measly wins in their first seven games.

We all know what’s going on with the Raptors, but what the hell is going on in Philly? To that end, we reached out to our favourite Sixers blog in this week’s installment of "Blogging With the Enemy."

Sixers 4 Guidos, the first Italian Sixers blog, has been covering Philly for some time now and we asked the site’s founder, Ricky, three questions about his beloved 76ers.

1. RaptorsHQ: The 76ers have come out of the blocks slow to start the season. Why the poor start? Is it a simple case of other players getting accustomed to having an Elton Brand on the floor with them?

Sixers for Guidos: Many reasons. Key players in bad shape (Iguodala has been horrible so far, Miller "simply" bad and "only" in our five losses, the same Brand is clearly rusty), chemistry to create is off (Sixers' line up is actually new for its 3/5 - Brand is the only brand new addition, but both Iguodala and Young changed position, Andre moved from SF to SG, Thad from PF to SF), poor coaching (static offense with no execution and lack of ideas/plays, porous defense) name it.

Sixers apparently are not using Brand properly, of course they have to get used to playing with a low post threat, something we were missing since…well…Barkley. It will take some time, but of course the average Sixers fan (in Philly!! not here!!) already overreacted: Brand is "a bum", Iguodala "overpaid" and should be traded, Miller is "stealing money", Cheeks "must be fired", the subs "all garbage" etc etc. Nothing new :-)

2. RaptorsHQ: One of the things we’ve noticed in 76ers games is that Young is taking way more shots then anyone else on the floor. Do you think this is on purpose or is it just bad offensive execution?

Sixers for Guidos: Thad has been the brightest thing in the Sixers season so far. His improvements are impressive, He built an outside shot and now has even 3 pt range, he looks super-confident and the team even runs plays for him (!). None of us have a problem with him taking more shots, since he's shooting such a good percentage from the field, from 3, and from the line. However problems start if your PG, who should distribute the ball, takes 24 shots in a game (against Orlando), and become bigger if he hits only 7 of them!

Or…if your supposed franchise player is averaging a whopping 11.6 PPG (versus 19.9 of last season), shooting 39% from the floor and 22% from behind the arc. Now those are real issues!

Anyway the team is not executing well, you see this when Brand is double teamed as he doesn't know who to kick out the ball to, and therefore spacing is bad and circulation stagnant. And people on the perimeter do their best to miss open shots, of course.

3. What do the 76ers have to do to get a win against the Raptors. What will you be looking for?

Sixers for Guidos: The next game, honestly, because we ALWAYS struggle vs Toronto, a team with plenty of shooters we clearly don't like to face. Your 3 point parties versus us are becoming really annoying, why don't you guys give it a cut? Miller can't guard Calderon (he couldn't limit even Jameer Nelson, go figure...) and Bosh has hit so many clutch shots vs Philly that I'm starting to hate him. It must be our jerseys or something, every time we play the Raps it's deja vu....

To come out with a W we must defend well on the perimeter, limit drives, run as much as possible (=easy baskets) and hit some outside shots. In the opening game this year it was shocking to see how we couldn't capitalize on a huge advantage under the boards (56-33!!!) The 10 threes you knocked down were the difference, that is the key.

A big thanks to Ricky for the update and we’d have to agree with his thoughts. Toronto’s 3-point shooting allowed them to escape with the win earlier this year even though the team was destroyed in the rebounding department and that will be something to watch for again tonight.

However since our three keys to tonight’s match are pretty much the same as they have been for the past while (get on the glass, take it to the rim, limit the opponent’s dribble penetration etc), we thought that perhaps instead, we’d focus in on three players to watch tonight from a Raptors’ fan’s perspective.

1) Jermaine O’Neal. It was announced yesterday that O’Neal would join Anthony Parker, Chris Bosh and Jose Calderon on this year’s Eastern Conference All-Star ballot. Obviously the Raptors’ big man has a long way to go before we start talking All-Star births but tonight could represent a big step in that direction. Coming off his best game of the year against Boston, it’s going to be very interesting to see if he can build on this performance, and help lead the charge tonight for Toronto. Last time he faced Philly, in his first game of the season, the former Pacer racked up an impressive 17 points and eight rebounds while shooting almost 50 per cent from the field.

Another solid offensive game would be a big boost for both the team and JO’s own confidence as he continues to look more and more fluid on the court. The spin move he dropped on Kendrick Perkins Monday night was shades of vintage JO and if he can put up close to a double-double tonight against Brand and Dalembert, this bodes well for a Raps’ W.

2) Will Solomon. Solomon faced the wrath of Raptors’ fans after his performance Monday night and it will be interesting to see how he rebounds this evening. I didn’t see his play in the second half as being the deciding factor in the game but there’s no question that he struggled in limited action. The thing is, Toronto needs Solomon to play like he did against Charlotte, in other words, be able to effectively spell Jose Calderon for 10-15 minutes a game and keep the offence running smoothly. On top of this, he needs to give the Raptors another option defensively against quicker point guards who quite frankly, have made Jose Calderon look about as mobile as "Ananas" from Téléfrancais.

Jose!  Jouer de la défence!

Jose! Jouer de la défence!

3) Andrea Bargnani. Perhaps no surprise to some but Andrea is my X Factor again this evening. Both Chris Bosh and Jermaine O’Neal will probably have their hands full with Elton Brand and Samuel Dalembert and therefore a third big man stepping up for Toronto would be huge. At times Bargs just doesn’t get the touches but he also floats around a bit too much as well. Therefore tonight I’m hoping he exerts his will on the game, and demands the ball down low as he’ll probably be matched up with slower players like Reggie Evans, or even Theo Ratliff and his expiring contract. If Andrea can put some points on the board from inside and out, it could end up being the difference tonight.