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3 in the Key – Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview vs. Knicks

Before we get into our game-day preview, I think it’s worth taking a bit more of an in-depth look at yesterday’s trade which saw Juan Dixon shipped off to the Pistons for Primo Brezec.

The trade was probably of little consequence to either team in terms of the "big picture" but I can’t really say I’m a fan of the deal. As one of our readers pointed out, Primo statistically has never exactly been that effective a "big" for his size, and I’m not really sure he’s much better in terms of rebounding than Bargnani frankly. Both are long and on the lean side considering their height so it’s not exactly like the team picked up Dale Davis.

It's not exactly acquiring Greg Foster is it...

It's not exactly acquiring Greg Foster is it...

For Detroit: It's a mild upgrade from the totally useless Brezec to the mildly useful Dixon -- if rookies Arron Afflalo or Rodney Stuckey lose their heads during the playoffs, he can come in and settle things down. Well, as much as things can "settle down" when he's jacking up every 20-footer he gets a halfway clean look at. But he's a better shooter than Flip Murray, at least. Grade: A-

For Toronto: The Euraptors were crestfallen when they acquired Dixon at the deadline last year and found out he was American. Exchanging him for Brezec fixes that nagging problem.

Also, Brezec is huge, and Toronto is desperate for size at the moment. But he's been horrid in his limited appearances the past two seasons. Personally, I'd rather have the guy who can play a little. Grade: C+

I have to agree. It’s not like Dixon was pulling a Vince Carter campaigning to leave or even a Jalen Rose dressing in all black. I understand that BC wants players who want to be here, but Dixon is only around for another 30 regular season games or so, couldn’t they have just waited this out? And isn’t it possible that Brezec will play even less than Dixon and complain even more? It’s not like he was a happy camper in Charlotte!

The real winner from this trade though isn’t Detroit or Toronto, it’s Juan Dixon. Dixon gets to go to a championship contending team, and one which in the past has made good playoff use of scrappy, under-sized, hard-working, trigger-happy players. And with rumoured buy-outs of Flip Murray who knows, maybe Dixon has some of that Maryland magic left in him for the stretch drive?

Of course we all would have liked to have seen Toronto bag a great rebounder, a slasher or a solid back-up point guard, but the good thing about this deadline was that BC didn’t do anything to jeopardize what he’s been building the past two seasons. As Michael Grange explained yesterday evening, it’s really this time next year that things could get interesting for Raptors’ fans:

"Anthony Parker will be in the last year of his deal. So will Jorge Garbajosa. Rasho Nesterovic, too. Throw in Jamario Moon and Maceo Baston and Raptors president and general manager Bryan Colangelo will have roughly $12-million (all currency U.S.) in expiring contracts to barter with.

Depending on what happens with Carlos Delfino, who will be a restricted free agent next summer, there could be even more room to wiggle. Joey Graham will have just one year remaining on his deal. Kris Humphries will have two more, but at a fairly modest total of $5.9-million over the two seasons."

But for now, Raptors’ fans are just going to have to be patient.

The team is hardly in the doldrums sitting six games over .500 and honing in on third spot in the Eastern Conference. No, this isn’t the same era as the "maybe if Chris Jeffries takes that next step and can give us 15 and 7 we can make the playoffs" Raptors, and many of us fans have forgotten just how recent that era was.

Bryan Colangelo himself stated yesterday that in effect the team had made its big splash when he first arrived, and now it was time to see how things unfolded. Toronto has some solid pieces in play currently and with another boost from an eventually healthy TJ Ford we hope, this team could indeed make some playoff noise.

And considering the other deals that went down yesterday, I’m not sure any threaten Toronto’s playoff seeding. Cleveland made some interesting moves but I’m not sold on the fact that they actually improved to a great degree. Delonte West should help them and Wally can shoot, but as Howland put it to me last night, "how are Varejao, Big Z, Wallace and Joe Smith all going to get significant minutes with this team?"

Furthermore many of Toronto’s other competition stayed quiet including the Magic and Wizards. Not to mention that other Eastern Conference teams that should have made moves did little to nothing.

And that brings us to the New York Knicks.

Toronto needs to keep Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson off the highlight reels tonight...

Toronto needs to keep Jamal Crawford and Nate Robinson off the highlight reels tonight...

The Knickerbockers made nary a deal yesterday and while rumours of Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph deals swirled about, nothing ever materialized and as a result, New York still sits with the league’s most ridiculous payroll considering their near league-worst record.

Toronto takes on New York twice this weekend but heading into this home-and-home situation, I’m leery of saying this will be two easy wins for the Raptors. New York has the offensive power to surprise teams and when the players aren’t squirting water bottles at each other or complaining about Isiah Thomas, they can present many match-up challenges for their opponents.

And therefore for our three keys, we’ll start with match-up problem number 1, the "bigs."

1) Take Curry and Randolph out of their element. Last time these clubs met, the Raptors did a nice job of making both players defend high screen-and-rolls, run in transition and guard quicker and more efficient players. As a result, Isiah Thomas was forced to abandon his original game-plan go to his bench, negating any size advantage New York had. Chris Bosh is playing out of this world and I expect him to set the tone early with drives on the slower Randolph and Curry (if they even start together.) And I’m hoping for a big bounce-back game from Andrea, truly the X factor here. If Andrea starts hitting from inside and out, Thomas will have no choice but to go small and the Raps should be able to capitalize. Curry and Thomas have both had big games against Toronto in the past (albeit on separate teams) so it’s crucial that the Raps do a number in this department, which of course includes getting on the glass.

2) Make Jamal Crawford shoot J’s. While Toronto has had New York’s number recently, Jamal Crawford has had some nice games against the Raps and some highlight reel footage. When Crawford is able to get to the rim, he’s especially deadly as his streaky outside shooting can keep New York in this game. I’ll be looking for Anthony Parker to keep Crawford on the perimeter and out of the action in the paint tonight. AP has looked a step slow on D at times this year but he needs to rise to the challenge tonight. In fact all of Toronto’s perimeter defenders need to tighten up as Nate Robinson like Crawford can get his game going with forays into the paint. These two, combined with David Lee, represent New York’s wild-cards and if Toronto can keep them quiet, this should be an easy Raptors’ W.

3) More Jose. Prior to Wednesday’s game against the Magic I had been lobbying for more scoring from Jose. Well he answered the call and smartly, Sam Mitchell decided to play Jose a bit at the 2 alongside Carlos Delfino, as a primary ball-handler, in order to better utilize Calderon’s stroke. For a player who’s shooting something ridiculous like 70 per cent from the field over the past few games, the Raps really need to make sure he’s involved scoring-wise going forward. This takes pressure off of Chris Bosh and gives opposing coaches fits in terms of mismatches.

This New York team is one giant mismatch to begin with in terms of personnel and Toronto needs to take advantage this weekend en route to closing out a successful month next week.