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3 In the Key – Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview vs. Kings (Updated)

Salmons would be a nice fit on the Raps, but tonight Toronto needs to keep him in check...

Salmons would be a nice fit on the Raps, but tonight Toronto needs to keep him in check...

I’m wondering just how many people are going to be reading this post this morning.

Boxing day lately always seems like "line up at Futureshop" day more than anything, so perhaps an afternoon post was in order.

Nevertheless, with Christmas 2008 having come and gone, we hope Santa found everyone’s chimneys, it’s back to business for the Toronto Raptors as they try to build on their last victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

And realistically, there’s probably not another team that Toronto would rather follow-up the Clips with than the 7 and 22 Kings.

Sacramento came into this season as one of the favourites for being league bottom-dwellers, but the assumption was that this was ok. This was a young team, obviously bent on rebuilding after dealing away Ron Artest in the off-season. Coach Reggie Theus drew praise from those around the league for his work with his youngsters, and with what looked to be another solid draft this past summer, many thought that Sacto would slowly improve with their youth movement under the watchful eye of Theus.

However we all know how that story turned out.

Theus has been dismissed, Sacramento center-piece Kevin Martin has been injured all season, fan attendance in the once raucous Arco Arena has plummeted, and some of the youngsters like Shelden Williams and Donte Green haven’t had the impact many expected.

Sacramento has the worst defensive efficiency mark in the league giving up almost 106 points per game on average, are only notches above the Raptors on the rebounding rate totem pole, and haven’t been great in terms of scoring either, an area that was traditionally a forte.

For a closer look at the Kings we turn to one of the original bloggers in the NBA, Tom Ziller of Sactown, in our weekly installment of "Blogging with the Enemy."

1. RaptorsHQ: Reggie Theus looked to be a dead man walking really early into the season; give us your thoughts on his firing and the general direction of the team - do you think players like Jason Thompson, Donte Green and Spencer Hawes are pieces that will eventually take this team back to contention in the West?

Sactown Royalty: Coming into the season, the mood appeared to be such that Theus had better relationships with the players than he did last season. Players who were at odds with or should have been at odds with Theus last season seemed happy this year. Of course, the 0-4 road trip to open the season (which included a massive blow-out in Miami for the second straight season) set things off badly, and even fools won't suffer slaughter at the hands of the Knicks at home. Despite these setbacks, I think the direction of the team is good. Think Portland 2006. That's where most Kings fans seem to think the team resides right now -- we have promise, but we need a few breaks to really set the team up for the highest success.

2. RaptorsHQ: It sounds like Brad Miller is going to be shopped but what about John Salmons? His name has appeared again in Raptors' rumours as Toronto desperately needs a player who can slash to the basket and create off the dribble. Is he still an underrated NBA player or a classic "decent player who looks better as the main option on a bad team" type?

Sactown Royalty: Brad Miller seems as good as gone. I think I'd be surprised to wake up to a Salmons deal, though, if only because he has been the team's best player this season with Kevin Martin's injury. It's hard to imagine a 7-22 team relinquish a good player for cap space and promise, though a former #1 like Andrea Bargnani could go a long way to quieting the locals screaming "TANK!"

Not that Toronto would or should give up Bargnani for Salmons. I don't buy into the whole "good stats on a crappy team" concept -- if you score 20 points a game on good efficiency, you're a damn fine player. But let's just say I find it hard to imagine he'd do the same with Toronto. Salmons needs the ball to be effective. If Salmons has the ball, neither Bosh nor Calderon would be as effective.

3. RaptorsHQ: Tomorrow night's game; what does Sacto have to do to grab their 8th win?

Sactown Royalty: As we saw with the Lakers game a few weeks ago, the Kings can beat any team if they play well. On the one hand, a visit from the Raptors seems like a great opportunity for a win, and these Kings desperately want to get some more wins. Losing is embarrassing. On the other hand, ARCO will be D-E-A-D and no one in a Sacramento jersey can dream of guarding Bosh. It could be a blow-out either way and I wouldn't be surprised.

A big thanks to Tom for the Boxing Day thoughts and as you can see, tonight's game is going to feature two teams desperate for a win.

So here then are our 3 keys for a Raptors' W:

1) Go Inside to Out.

Sound familiar? We might have to post this every game until it gets through Toronto’s collective heads. This is unmistakably where the Raptors have an advantage and the ball needs to therefore go through Bosh and O’Neal at every opportunity. Yes, Spencer Hawes has been a nice surprise for the Kings up front, and Mikki Moore and Brad Miller can be physical defenders, but none posses the skill of CB4 and JO and it’s going to be important to establish a high and low-post presence early. From there, the Raptors can line up the likes of Calderon, Parker and Kapono to bomb away as the Kings are one of the worst in the league at defending the 3-point line.

Furthermore, it would be nice to see Andrea Bargnani establish position down low as well. Against a shallow Kings’ bench, he should be able to use his size to his advantage and force smaller bigs like Moore and Williams to either play him on the perimeter where he can blow by them, or face him down low where he can drop in the side-to-side hook shot that he likes to use so much. It’s games like these that Andrea can really help his confidence so I’m hoping to see him attack early and often. If that doesn’t happen, I expect to see another heavy dose of "Jake the Snake" to help match the ruggedness of some of the Kings’ big-men.

2) Protect the Paint.

Under Jay Triano the Raptors have done a much better job in this area and if they want to win tonight, they need to keep this up. The Kings are the third-worst perimeter shooting club in the league yet have players like Martin (when healthy) and Salmons who can get into the paint and to the rim.

So, the obvious point here then is that Toronto needs to stay in front of Sacramento’s wing-men, and force the Kings to score from long-distance. Outside of John Salmons who is shooting almost 43 per cent from beyond the arc, the rest of the team is barely getting over the 30 per cent mark. In fact, supposed long-range gunners like Francisco Garcia and Quincy Douby have been extremely off this season and the Kings’ second-best 3-point shooter has actually been their center, Brad Miller!

If Toronto can play big offensively down low, and keep the Kings from getting points in the paint, then this should equate to an easy victory.

But to be on the safe side, let’s bring up one more point.

3) Slow down the Pace.

One area in which Sacramento does excel is scoring in transition. The club likes to get out and go and they play at the 8th fastest pace in the league. This means that Toronto needs to first of all get on the glass to prevent Sacto run-outs, and second, to get back in transition to make sure Sacramento doesn’t start putting up easy points off the break.

Toronto at times gets caught standing around flat-footed and this young Kings squad will be looking for any advantage they can get.

If Toronto doesn’t make sure they nullify these attempts by the Kings, and take advantage of their strengths, it could be a long night for us Raptors fans.

Portland is up next on a back-to-back which makes getting a W tonight, that much more crucial.