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

The official word on Chris Bosh at this point is that he’ll miss all games in Toronto’s current road trip.

That means the Toronto Raptors will be Bosh-less for tonight’s tilt against the Charlotte Bobcats, and the team’s following games against Orlando and Miami.

The good news is, besides Orlando, there aren’t many other teams in the league you’d rather play without CB4 than Charlotte and Miami.

The bad news is, after seeing how Toronto played without Bosh against an Indiana team that had even less star power than any of the aforementioned teams, it’s evident that a complete team effort is needed to get these wins.

So let’s cut to the chase with our three keys for a win tonight against the Bobcats:

1) Stopping the ball. As we discussed on the site the past few days, Jose Calderon needs to pick it up. His play prior to TJ’s return was one of the key reasons the Raps were having hanging with the Clevelands and the Washingtons of the East and he needs to get off to a good start today at both ends of the court. In particular, Jose needs to do a much better job defensively against the Bobcats’ ball-handlers than he did against Indiana. Raymond Felton is a solid penetrator and if he starts getting into the paint ala Travis Diener, players like Jason Richardson and Matt Carroll could have a field day. And speaking of Richardson…Mike Junleavy Jr. Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili, Corey Maggette, the list goes on and on this year. Raps’ fans have seen various swingmen beat up the Raps from the 3 spot and therefore Jason Richardson is going to require a lot of attention tonight. Jamario Moon may get the assignment, but I’d rather see Anthony Parker and Carlos Delfino assume the role. Lately Moon’s one-on-one play has left me pining for Mo Pete.

2) Exploiting match-ups. Many of our readers echoed the sentiments Howland and I made about Sam Mitchell refusing to try going big against Indiana. With lugs like Nazr Mohammed and Emeko Okafor down low, I expect we’ll see a lot of the Raps’ "bigs" today however. Rasho Nesterovic is expected to start with Andrea sliding over the to 4 spot. I think this line-up as it will give Raptors’ fans a chance to see how Andrea operates when he’s the focal point on offense. Okafor and Mohammed will have an extremely tough time matching up with Bargnani’s outside shooting and quickness off the bounce and I’m looking for a big game from Il Mago today. In addition, I’ll be watching Sam Mitchell’s substitutions with great interest. If Toronto starts getting beat into the paint again, will he look to change things up? One of our readers mentioned that perhaps Sam should have had Jose sag off of Diener to prevent "switches" from Toronto’s other perimeter defenders when Jose was getting beat and I’d have to agree. After watching college ball all day yesterday and seeing some great examples of forcing opponents to play out of their comfort zone, I found myself wishing Mitchell would that more often as well. Yes, the college game is a lot different than that of the NBA but I guess I’d just like to see Mitchell force his opponents to react to his moves, rather than it constantly being the other way around.

3) Getting to the rim. The loss of Chris Bosh will probably hurt the Raptors offensively and in various other areas of the game as well. But the biggest drop-off I fear will be at the free-throw line. Toronto needs to start attacking the rim, especially minus Bosh, their go-to guy in this capacity. The guy I’ll be looking for to step up in this area; Anthony Parker. Throughout his tenure as a Raptor, I from time to time wonder how he was a two-time Euroleague MVP. Not that he’s a bad player, in fact, he’s one of the most well-rounded on the Raptors. However you’d think that to be the MVP, Parker would have needed to do more than play solid D, be a great spot-up and "off-curl" shooter, and essentially be a team’s "glue guy," his current role with the Raptors. Wouldn’t he need to look for his own shot more, particularly off the dribble and by getting to the basket? Well I think I answered my own question Friday night. One of the silver linings in that game may have been the play of AP. Parker in the fourth quarter all of a sudden seemed to flick the switch, and change from complimentary piece, to main go-to guy and he started slashing with reckless abandon to the bucket. Let’s make this clear – the team needs more of that, even when Chris Bosh is healthy and playing! If Parker simply looks for outside looks and Bargnani struggles with fouls or his shot, we could be seeing a lot of TJ Ford 1 on 5’s tonight simply out of offensive necessity…something that’s not going to be good for anyone.

Bottom line here – a loss today could make things pretty ugly heading to face Orlando and the questions about this team’s playoff chances will surely re-emerge.