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

Harris has come a long way since his days as a Badger...

Harris has come a long way since his days as a Badger...

I really thought all this "Vince Carter is the enemy" stuff was done.

I really thought with the Nets sinking to the bottom of the league, Carter would fold like a poker player staring at a 7 and a 2 off-suit and see his worst statistical season ever.

Either that or he’d be "injured" for half the Nets’ matches…

However with a single game, Carter re-embedded himself into Raptor-lore and from the look of his surprising team, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

In fact, it’s quite possible that it’s the Nets that the Raptors end up battling with for a playoff positioning when all is said and done!

That’s why beyond a mini-win streak, beyond revenge against Vince Carter, and beyond getting Raptors’ coach Jay Triano his second win, Toronto needs to start winning games like these. Unbelievably, after what seemed like a never-ending summer, we’re already almost a quarter through the regular season. The Raptors have a tough few weeks ahead on the schedule so beating some of these Eastern Conference foes, especially those from their own division, is paramount.

The Nets come into tonight’s game winners of seven of their last 10, the complete opposite of our Toronto Raptors. They dropped a strange one to the Knicks on Wednesday night but overall, have been playing on a level few predicted to start the season. Yes, Devin Harris and Vince Carter have been a formidable duo in the back-court, but Lawrence Frank has molded his team’s offence to fit his young, up-tempo personnel and New Jersey is scoring the sixth most points in the league at just a shade under 102.

They are a shade behind Phoenix for fifth in the NBA in terms of offensive efficiency as well and there’s no question that if the Raptors don’t get stops tonight, it’s going to be a long evening in the Swamp.

1) Keep Harris and Carter under control.

We all know that when Vine Carter feels like playing, there’s still almost no one this side of Lebron James that can be as unstoppable. Raptors’ fans saw that first hand a few weeks ago with Carter going bonkers offensively hitting clutch shot after shot en route to an eventual New Jersey triumph. However if he can be lulled into shooting jump shots all night, this bodes well for the Dinos.

The problem though is match-ups here.

If Triano sticks with last game’s starting line-up, I’m not sure how this is going to work. Kapono isn’t quick enough to guard Carter, certainly isn’t quick enough to guard Harris, and with the 7-foot Yi Jianlian playing the ¾ spots on the court at times alongside the physical Bobby Simmons, that represents another tough match-up for Kapono.

The best scenario, assuming Anthony Parker’s ankle won’t let him play, is to have Kapono on Simmons, Moon on Carter, and Jose on Harris. Granted that’s far from ideal, but the hope is that with a healthy O’Neal in the paint, Harris won’t have the same path to the basket that had he had last time these clubs met.

This means however that certain players are going to have to resist the urge to come "help" Jose on the weak side as leaving Carter, or even Jianlian open on the perimeter could spell trouble with a capital T. If Jose gets beat, let JO step up, with Bosh rotation over to O’Neal’s open man (probably Brook Lopez), and therefore Kapono must be the final rotation on any such play. Bobby Simmons is the least dangerous offensive threat on the court for New Jersey so if anyone can be left open, it would be the former DePaul star.

Put it this way, if you’re going to get beat by Simmons knocking down J’s all night, so be it.

If Parker is a no-go, I expect Triano is going to use a lot of Joey Graham and maybe even some Will Solomon and Hassan Adams to get after Carter and Harris defensively and give them some different looks. These two are combining to score 46 per cent of the team’s points on average so the bottom line here is quite clear; limit these two and you give yourself a great chance for a W.

2) Get out and run...both ways.

Toronto has hardly been the defensive club many predicted to start the season. However for all the Nets surprising success, they’ve been even worse. Toronto ranks 23rd in defensive efficiency with the Nets coming in at 27th, fourth worst in the league. It’s New Jersey’s offense that has been winning getting them W’s so the message here is simple; thwart the Nets’ plans on O and take it right back at them the other way. Neither club is great in terms of rebounding the ball so if Toronto can crash the glass and get out on the run early and often, this could give New Jersey fits.

Going the other way, Toronto’s transition defense was a huge issue last time these clubs met so that will need to be cleaned up this evening. Players like Carter and Harris make a living off of transition 3’s and missed assignments so the Raptors if they can’t keep up, are going to need to fight a little fire with fire and get out in transition themselves.

This is especially important considering that neither team plays at a very fast pace.

Surprisingly, for all the Nets offensive prowess this year, they average .3 possessions less than the Raptors per game (94 as opposed to 94.3.) Therefore the team that wins the battle of the boards and thus gets out on the break for easy looks more often, very well could end up being the team that ends the night with the W.

3) Take advantage of Bosh and O’Neal.

In the Raptors’ epic collapse to the Nets a few Friday’s ago, things got off to a great start for Toronto thanks to the dominance on the interior of Bosh and O’Neal.

I’m hoping to see a lot of more of this tonight.

While we’ve discussed Triano’s new offense, something Bosh seems to be slowly getting used to, and getting out on the run, Toronto should be pounding the ball in to these two on every possession early on. As we saw in that last match, Yi just can’t guard CB4 and while Lopez did an admirable job on JO, he doesn’t have the strength at this point to contend with O’Neal in close. Therefore I hope in the visitors locker room tonight, Triano has written in big letters on the chalk board –


This opens things up then for forays to the basket by Moon and open 3’s for Calderon and Kapono and could put New Jersey in a big hole early.

The key of course is to keep them in that hole this time and that means that when players like Bargnani and Graham are in, they’re going to have to take advantage of their size and skills in the paint and look to use their size and strength to their advantage close to the basket.

A win tonight and suddenly the Raptors have a mini-run going into Sunday’s game, one that I feel is winnable against an up and down Hornets club, and Toronto follows that up against the Nets again on Monday night, another winnable affair.

If Toronto can continue to ride the momentum of their Indiana win that would put them at .500 when the Mavericks come to town and then before heading off to face Oklahoma on the 19th, easily the biggest foreseeable W on the December schedule.

It gets a lot tougher of course after that so Triano needs to have his troops focused and locked in over the next week or so. Thanks to the ongoing TSN2 fiasco , the Raptors will have less fan support for many of these games and with no resolution in sight according to Rogers, it may be back to 1956 and radio broadcasts to fill the fan void.

On the plus side?

It sounds like Rogers is recognizing the error in their ways so for Raptors fans, now may be the best time ever to give the Cable giant a call for refunds on other services…