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3 in the Key - Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview Against the Heat

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Beasley looks to go where no Moon has gone before...

Beasley looks to go where no Moon has gone before...

Jose Calderon may not play in this Sunday's game against the Heat, and I couldn't be happier.

No, I didn't fall down the elevator shaft of my condo, nor have I suddenly turned into a Jose hater.

But in a game that most expect to be won, the Raptors may have lots of difficulty containing the speed of the Heat. Things have gotten awfully pessimistic as of late and will undoubtedly get uglier if we lose.

Heck, without Jose, I'd rather look at this as a perfect opportunity to give much needed experience to our backup point guards.

You almost have to be glad that we will not be seeing it on TSN2.

Without the limelight of Toronto focused on the team, it'd be a perfect opportunity to see what happens when you play Bargnani extended minutes, give Joey Graham a starting shot, and let both Will Solomon and Roko Ukic work through some of the kinks in their play. But let's be realistic about our expectations even if the above all does happen. Somewhere in pre-season, I came to the conclusion that the Raptors would be slow coming out of the gate, and the hope would be that the Raptors would develop an identity much like they did in 2006-2007. Remember way back when, to those early days in 2006 when the Raptors were so bad before they finally found themselves in January and figured out how to win when making shots, and how to at least give themselves a chance when they weren't? We've been searching for that magic since.

Come to think of it, we're still trying to replace the smarts of Jorge Garbajosa even after a season of moving on. But that's a story for a different time.

Anyways, it's important to remember that this is still only the first month of an 82 games schedule and there are going to be extremely rough patches. Those "rough patches" would be fine as long as the right players were being developed and chemistry was being established. It was also two years ago (with Andrea Bargnani) and many more before in the Butch Carter years (with T-mac) that we heard the mantra that either you're developing your rookies and players or you're losing twice over. Those messages in those development times still need to be applied now, especially with our less experienced players.

It's partially why I was so harsh on Sam Mitchell for Boston's game (a winnable situation) vs. the Philadelphia game (a situation where the Raptors were just having an off shooting night) as he has to be visionary that maximizes our opportunities for wins while balancing the long term picture and growth of the club. Instead we currently have a bunch of loses that have not displayed a direction for improvement. This staff just sometimes seem to be too concentrated on the here and now. As a result, players that need time are getting a quick hook and those that have already had plenty of chances still get more of their time in.

There's going to be a need for patience and learning if we hope that this Raptors group gels in the same way we saw a couple years ago. The Raptors management needs to get their eye on the future, and it's encouraging that some fans are taking a look at that aspect.

Anyways, on to the upcoming game.

Now, of course, one of the obvious points is to check Dwayne Wade for the game, but I'm not going to say it's a key. Every night, the Raptors are going to have to check the best player on the opposing team, and more often than not, it's going to be a shooting guard or small forward. Sure, the Raptors should force the ball out of the best scorer of the team that they're playing on any given night, but so far this season, Dwayne Wade seems to be back in his magical form.

So instead, let's focus on these three other things:

1) Attack The Interior Often -
Couldn't pick a better game to have Joey Graham play extended minutes. Without any real inside presence, the Heat are ripe for the picking by Bosh, O'Neal and Bargnani, but it's going to take a wing that wants to finish at the rim to truly take full advantage of the lack of an inside presence. Attack early, attack often and if you're not sure what to do, just keep attacking the middle.

On the other side of the ball, our own bigs have to stand tall against players like Dwayne Wade, Michael Beasley, and Shawn Marion. Making sure to protect our own paint, there should be plenty of opportunities for the Raptors to out-rebound and out-muscle the Heat if they even contemplate entering the paint. Special attention needs to be paid to Shawn Marion, who is becoming the only real rebounding force on the Heat.

2) Attack The Rook -
We all know Dwayne Wade will get his and then some, but limiting Michael Beasley and exposing his rookie jitters will be essential in making sure the Raptors come out with a win. Although he is a scoring force, the Raptors can force him into mistakes by aggressively attacking him, even sometimes showing him a double team.

The Raptors should also try to look to attack him, which makes having Joey Graham on the floor just that much more important. The Raptors should theoretically be able to put some fouls on the rookie if they remain aggressive on the attack and get to the paint. However, whoever is guarding Beasley must remember that he has shown a touch at the free throw line so far this season, and one must respect his jump shot.

3) Bargnani vs Marion -
With Udonis Haslem playin in the center, the man known as "The Matrix" has become the Heat's power forward and even though the Raptors will have a size advantage in the middle, the speed race will quickly go to Miami's favour. If Marion plays (reports say that he's feeling better), he's the type of player that the Raptors may have trouble stopping with their starting bigs. It's why I predict that we'll be seeing a lot of Andrea Bargnani for this game.

Bargnani has quickly established himself as an adequate defender most nights and has been able to prove troublesome for opposing big men thanks to his quickness and newly found strength. Bosh is much more used to player power players who can attack around the rim, and as a result, is not as able to guard a natural small forward like Shawn Marion. Bargnani, on the other hand, does have experience chasing down scoring threats on the perimeter and has shown the ability to contain his man by using his good footwork. We saw Bargnani contain Brand multiple times in the last game so that Brand just couldn't take a comfortable shot. Sure, it'll be a test for Bargs, but it's time to see just how far his defensive abilities reach. With Marion's sore groin, it'll be a nice little half-test for Bargnani.

Here's hoping we'll see the full gamut of Bargnani's skill set for a second night in a row.

Vicious D