Pretty tough to write this Raps preview this evening.
First Duke goes strictly with an ineffective Plan A by bombing away from 3-point land and then Kansas State gets knocked off by Wisconsin.
The Duke loss was particularly frustrating because while they put on a solid display of defense through the majority of the game, the Blue Devils showed a complete lack of mental toughness and got destroyed on the glass.
In fact, what a great segue way to tomorrow afternoon’s game between the Toronto Raptors and the Denver Nuggets as last time these teams met, Toronto was only three of 12 from long range, and got beaten on the glass.
Oh…and the Dinos also gave up 137 points and allowed the Nuggets to shoot 55 per cent from the field (including nearly 40 per cent from beyond the arc.)
So how can Toronto even the series with the Nuggs tomorrow?
How about by showing some grit and desperation from the outset…
Philly beat New Jersey earlier tonight to get within a half a game of Toronto and as the Nuggets are only two and a half back of Golden State, I expect to see them come out ready to go.
Therefore our first key? Early intensity…
1) Control the tempo early. Denver is perhaps the most explosive offensive team in the league besides maybe Golden State and the Toronto needs to be ready from the tip. If the Raptors come out and allow the Nuggets to put up 44 in the first quarter again (as was the case the last time these teams met) then you might as well turn your channel back to March Madness. Denver is not a great defensive club so if Jose and the starting five can set the tempo early and keep this one close at the end of one, that should bode well for the remainder of the game. However both point guards need to make sure they don’t get caught up in the Nuggets’ run-and-gun style. As much as Toronto was supposed to be the "Phoenix East," we’ve realized, especially this year, that that is simply not the case. Toronto actually plays at one of the slower paces in the league and are most effective when they can get their offence moving inside to out. Therefore as tempting as it might be to try and run a 48 minute fast-break drill, I’m hoping we see both TJ and Jose stick to the script.
2) Guard the perimeter. Staying with Allen Iverson and keeping Carmello Anthony in check is no easy task; after all, we’re talking about two of the top four scorers in the league. But what Toronto can’t do is let them get easy looks to heat up, or let them get guys like JR Smith, Chucky Atkins and Linas Kleiza involved. Smith, Atkins and Kleiza combined for 37 points off the bench last time and repeatedly kept snuffing out Toronto’s comeback attempts.
The problem is, keeping Denver’s offense in check is no easy task, especially in terms of locking down the perimeter. Toronto does not match up well with teams like Denver because they have slashers who can also step out and hit shots. Without much of a shot blocking presence, Toronto’s perimeter defenders are hesitant about playing too tight on the 3 point line as they know getting beat could mean an empty lane to the basket. This is especially true when Bargnani is in the game.
This also explains why Toronto is one of the worst teams in the league at defending against the 3. Without many top notch on-the-ball defenders, it looks to me like the Raps are hesitant to play too close and get beaten off the dribble and at times, this is why we’ve seen clubs like Indiana, Charlotte and Golden State, make them pay.
Therefore tomorrow afternoon I just want to see on the ball pressure similar to what we saw against Cleveland. No one on the Raps is going to lock down Iverson or Anthony but getting a hand in their faces, eliminating open looks, closing out on shots…these are the things Toronto needs to do to keep Denver’s offence from blowing up the ACC.
3) Rebound the basketball. We saw Toronto get annihilated on the boards Friday night and Toronto can’t have a reoccurrence of this tomorrow afternoon. Denver is going to score enough points as it is without the Raps giving them second or third chances. There’s no reason Andrea Bargnani and Chris Bosh can’t combine for more than seven boards and the entire team has to commit to getting after it on the glass.
A loss to Denver would mean Toronto has lost 11 of their last 14 games with their only wins coming over Seattle and Miami (twice.)
Suddenly each game is becoming a "must-win" situation, especially with Philadelphia threatening to have the Raptors facing Detroit in the opening round.
However regardless of who Toronto ends up facing, the last thing you want as a fan is to see your team limp into the post-season.
Believe me, as a Duke fan, I know about this situation all too well.