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

Aaaah, these two can now hug in the same uniform again!

Aaaah, these two can now hug in the same uniform again!

The San Antonio Spurs look to be reacquiring Brent Barry.

The Phoenix Suns have their sights set reportedly on Gordan Giricek while the Detroit Pistons are rumoured to be closing in on a "soon-to-be-waived" Theo Ratlif.

The Raptors – well they’ll just have to be happy with being healthy.

It’s been a strange season in the NBA, one in which we’ve seen a veritable arms race in the West as everyone has been making like the College Dropout getting "Bigger, Faster and Stronger." For the Raptors, their "build" occurred over a year ago but due to injuries, it’s been tough to see the complete finished product.

TJ Ford however looks to be getting back to his old darting and juking ways and word is that even Jorge Garbajosa is finally able to put some weight on his injured leg. He won’t be back this season of course, but it’s a positive sign none-the-less.

Tonight the Toronto Raptors take on the Indiana Pacers in one of their last home games for a while. March sees the team on the road quite a bit and up against some tough foes such as the Lakers, Warriors, Nuggets and Jazz as part of a mid-month five game road swing. They’ll also have some important inter-conference match-ups against the Wizards, Magic, Cavs and Pistons.

That’s why to me, it’s disappointing that the team, even with a win tonight, only went 8 and 4 this month. Losses to the Clippers and Knicks could easily have been avoided and even the loss to San Antonio could have been prevented. It’s all water under the bridge now but with a much tougher schedule in March, taking better advantage in February might end up making a difference come April.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. It’s Raps versus Pacers tonight with Toronto looking to extend its winning streak to four straight and six W’s in the last seven games.

Here are our keys:

1) Defend the 3 point line. When these teams met earlier this week, I had written this was a big key to the game. Unfortunately, Toronto chose not to read our blog that day and almost lost the match by allowing players like Granger, Dunleavy and Rush to bomb away. Let’s face it, without even getting into the recent Shawne Williams legal situation, this team is a mess. So playing right to Indiana’s strengths, as the Raptors basically did last time, is a recipe for disaster. Toronto needs to close out on players and have faith that if they get beat on the outside, the Raps’ interior defenders will be there to help out. This means you Jamario Moon. I love the kid, but if I see him falling for up fakes at the 3-point line against guys who can’t hit the backboard from that distance, I’m going to ruin my beautiful 42-inch HD TV.

Note to Jamario Moon - this guy likes to shoot 3's...

Note to Jamario Moon - this guy likes to shoot 3's...

2) Exploit the interior. Here’s part two of what Toronto did wrong last game. Early in the game, the Raps let Indiana dictate the pace, get rebounds in the paint, and settled into the Pacers’ run-and-gun style, neglecting to use their advantage inside. Chris Bosh should be able to absolutely destroy this team minus Jermaine O’Neal and I’ll be watching tonight to see him attack from the jump. Andrea Bargnani had his best month of the year in February and needs to continue to improve with each game. Matches like tonight’s against Indiana are perfect opportunities as the Pacers have no one who can match up with the perimeter-oriented 7 footer. Let’s hope Toronto gets Bargs going early and instead of pure small ball, I’m hoping Mitchell uses bigs like Humphries and Brezec to create mismatches. I mean come on, this is Gangsta Beaker’s former team!

3) Get bench production. One of the big reasons Toronto has been winning games lately has been the play of their bench. TJ Ford and Carlos Delfino have been leading the charge but even Jason Kapono and others have been helping out. Tonight it’s the Raptors’ second wave that I believe will push this one out of reach for Indiana. The Pacers are already short-staffed and TJ Ford must be licking his lips in anticipation of matching up against Travis Diener again. Diener might have been Dwyane Wade’s back-court mate at Marquette, but he’s no Flash.

The Raptors find themselves a game up on the Cavs going into tonight’s action and considering Cleveland faces the moribund Timberwolves at home, Toronto needs to get this win to stay ahead. While I’m not sold yet on the moves Cleveland made at the trade deadline, there’s no way I want to see Lebron James in the first round if it can be avoided. A win tonight against Indiana would inch Toronto closer to Orlando for third in the East and help avoid this scenario.