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

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The Hawks have not missed Josh

The Hawks have not missed Josh "Pimp My Life" Childress yet this season.

Apparently not the Atlanta Hawks who have started this season with a three game winning streak. Even as their quality sixth-man from last season lives a life of luxury playing for Olympiacos, the Hawks have not missed a beat.

In fact, they are red hot and making quick work of quality opponents. The Magic, 76ers and the Hornets have all suffered a defeat at the hands of this young and athletic squad. What is scary is not just that they have beaten these teams but how badly they have beaten them. The smallest margin of victory for Atlanta has been 7 points and their average margin of victory is just shy of 10. With this sort of start they really are "Hotlanta".

Just how have they managed to get on a quick roll this season?

Joe Johnson.

He has been an absolute monster thus far and doing his best to dispute recent claims that he is not a "lead-player". He is averaging 28 ppg, 5.7 rpg and almost four dimes.

JJ is not doing it alone however. Fellow starters Mike Bibby, Josh Smith and Al Horford are all off to pretty good starts and the production off the bench has been solid as well thanks to Flip Murray and Mo Evans. So far in Atlanta it has been a team effort, a concept that their ownership may want to try and capture.

Of course what really makes these guys tick is their collective athleticism. You would be hard-pressed to find another team in the NBA that showcases so many young, albeit sometimes raw, athletes. If you watched the seven game match-up with Boston in last years playoffs you know exactly what I mean.

Should a fast start from this team really be surprising? This team’s core is essentially the same as what it was last season, the young studs are continuing to develop, and it appears that the little bit of success they had last season is providing the required motivation to achieve more. I call that a recipe for success.

I also call it a potential L for the Toronto Raptors if they don’t play at their best.

This will be a tough test for the Raps as they are facing not only an athletic squad that can get up and down the court, but one that seems more committed than ever to playing defense. They are yet to allow an opponent over 90 points and Mike Woodson must be absolutely on the moon about his team's play at their own end of the court. To hold those three opponents, in particular the Hornets AT HOME, to less than 90 points has to be commended and very noteworthy.

So just how can Toronto do their best impression of the Detroit Pistons and beat a 3-0 team? Well it won’t be easy.

1. – Rebounding – With the way the Hawks have been winning, rebounding the basketball, in particular on the offensive end, becomes absolutely essential. This is the perfect opportunity for JO to bounce back from his performance against the Pistons. He has to hit the glass hard and make Al Horford work. If JO has another three rebound performance I can’t imagine any way the Raps can win this game. Josh Smith and Horford have a nose for the ball and if they dominate the boards it could be a long night. Of course it’s not all on JO. The wing players, in particular Mr. Moon, have to get to the glass. Considering how the Hawks are playing defense as of late second chance points will be the difference between a W and an L. The Raps have to get them and they absolutely must prevent the Hawks from getting theirs.

2. Foul Trouble – Maybe the best way to secure a W against these Hawks is to take advantage of their inexperience. If Bosh and JO can force Josh Smith and/or Al Horford into committing silly fouls early it would make for a big advantage. After their starters Atlanta is rail thin up front (yes that means you Solomon Jones). If the Raps manage to take one of these two guys out of the equation they will have more than a fighting chance. Of course this is less likely to happen if the Raps wingmen stay on the perimeter allowing their big men to sit back, which brings us to…

Don't sleep on Joe Johnson...he's been dominant early.

Don't sleep on Joe Johnson...he's been dominant early.

3. Getting to the Hoop – There can be no standing around for the Raps swingmen waiting for the open shot during tonight’s game. Outside of Jose Calderon, the Raptors need to have someone willing to go to the hole. Atlanta has no shortage of guys willing to get into the paint and the Raps need to respond. I will be looking for Joey Graham early in this match-up if Moon doesn’t either get on the glass or show something more than a 15 foot jumper early on. If the Raps continue to "float" then Joe Johnson, Flip Murray and even Marvin Williams will have a field day on the offensive end not having to burn any energy defensively.

This game could tell us a lot about the Raptors and where they are as a team. As an experienced team they should be able bounce back from last game's loss and if they don’t, expect a lot more hooting and hollering about this team's desperate need for a swingman and what moves could be made to get one.

It’s been a while since an Altanta-Toronto match-up has been anywhere near significant. It’s a solid Friday night tilt.

HOWLAND