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3 In the Key – Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview vs. Pistons

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The Raptors need to start showing some Rasheed-esque passion to close out the season...

The Raptors need to start showing some Rasheed-esque passion to close out the season...

On Monday, I was chatting online briefly with one of my boys about the madness that unfolded in the tourney. He was venting about Georgetown’s loss, but afterwards, the topic quickly changed to the Raptors...

Me: "Tough loss once again yesterday – Philly looks primed to pass them in the standings."

K-Dawg: "My biggest beef with the game...a minute and change left in the first...Sam subs Calderon for TJ...no prob. Next whistle...he takes every starter except Bargs off the floor...so, instead of slowly switching the guys for a rest against a team that is as potent as Denver...he throws in all the cold guys at once."

"And what happens...Bargs doesn't score a single point for the rest of the game and we blow a 17 point lead."

"The other thing that killed me...Martin gets 5 fouls on him with 3 minutes left in the game... and not once does anyone attack him. Bosh had him backed down in the low post and what does he do? Throws it up top for a long range shot...what the hell?"

I think it’s pretty safe to say that my friend wasn’t the only one who was irritated by these events, and that it’s not the first time things like this have been brought up here at the HQ.

Which brings me to this point…

Is it just me, or do the Toronto Raptors possess one of the lowest "basketball IQ’s" collectively in the league?

I’ve soured on Sam Mitchell this year but you hear what he says in huddles and in public all the time…so why isn’t any of it sinking in?

Why are we as fans so often left wondering why various on-court decisions are made during games?

Bosh must have known his defender had five fouls, why not go at him?

And why is Jamario Moon, who had a great game by all accounts, jacking up an ill- advised 3 in crunch time?

Every season has its share of frustrations, but I never remember even during the Mike James or Rafer Alston era being this confused about a Raptors’ team. Those previous eras were frustrating because the team was terrible; this one – there’s really no excuse.

So instead of going into three keys for the game against the Pistons, I think it’s time to bring out the HQ "3 keys to finishing the season on strong note."

And let’s start with Mr. CB4…

1) Chris Bosh Needs to Put This Team on His Shoulders:

In the latest blogger MVP and rookie of the year voting, I had Bosh penciled in at the sixth spot behind the likes of Lebron, CP3, Kobe, KG, and Nash. He didn’t make the final cut, but I’m not sure how Dwight Howard (who has more star power surrounding him) and others are really much better options at this point. I mean, we’ve seen the results "sans Bosh" lately and it ain’t pretty.

But here’s the thing. Until Andrea starts playing with more consistency, TJ gets his head on straight, Delfino realizes he’s still on the team, and Moon decides dunking on people, not just on open breakaways, is a good thing, Bosh needs to carry this club.

We’ve seen him do it in the past, and while he may not be back to 100 per cent game shape, he’s going to have to do it again if this team wants to get back into pole position in the playoff race.

And while it was fine to hear CB4 come out and chastise his team for their lack of execution and competitiveness late in games, he needs to lead by example.

2) The Supporting Cast Needs to Step Up:

That being said, besides Bosh looking to be the focal point at all times, other players on this team need to step up. I’m not talking about simply scoring a bit more, or playing better defence, all of that should occur down the final stretch anyways. What I want to see is someone other than Bosh dominate a game. Last year, there were stretches where teams had no answer for Andrea and he lead the team in scoring. TJ did the same and even Mo Pete pulled a few gems out.

This year in contrast, Jose had a stretch of games where he was a solid second option, but they seem few and far between. And really, Calderon isn’t the type of player who should be dominating a game scoring-wise being that he’s most effective as a facilitator and occasional scorer.

However guys like Delfino, Bargs, Ford and even Parker have the ability to change the complexion of a match and Toronto really needs this crew to start pulling some more weight. AP has been great in a supporting role and stepped up in Bosh’s absence so we know he can do it. Now we just need to see players like him continue in that mold with CB4 back on the court.

And this goes for guys like Kris Humphries and Jamario Moon as well, potential game changers if they stick to what they are best at. (Incidentally, ESPN.com yesterday posted an interesting off-season workout mentorship for Jamario Moon…)

As a final note in this department, the supporting cast includes Sam Mitchell and the coaching staff as well.

Perhaps Toronto can’t sneak up on teams like they did last year and are much better scouted yada, yada, yada. But the onus then is on Mitchell and crew to make adjustments working with what they have. Periods of play like the ones Toronto is currently mired in is where coaches earn their keep so let’s see Sam get things turned around before playoff time.

The Raptors need Bosh to start carrying the club, but guys like Hump to give him a big boost as well...

The Raptors need Bosh to start carrying the club, but guys like Hump to give him a big boost as well...

3) The Team Needs to Start Playing With a Sense of Urgency:

And to get things turned around? For starters, this team needs to start playing with a sense of urgency. Mr. Grange has alluded to this numerous times this year as well but Toronto has sort of lollygagged its way through most of the season. I’m not sure if they think they can just turn it on and off like the Pistons, but that’s not the case. Toronto doesn’t have the talent, and they don’t have the experience either. But with 12 games left, eight of which are at home, Toronto needs to take things up a notch. They missed the boat in late February and early March by not winning some "gimmies," and now they’re going to have to make up for it by stringing together some solid victories.

To Toronto’s advantage however, they have an easier schedule than their two competitors (the 76ers and Wizards) as of their remaining 12 games, only the Hornets and Pistons, who Toronto play twice, have records above .500.

Therefore there is ample opportunity to get on a roll in the final stretch and somehow Sam Mitchell needs to find a way to tap into a sense of desperation so the Raptors understand what’s at stake here. Playing Detroit in the first round and bowing out in four games is hardly what Bryan Colangelo expected this year and if this occurs, deep down he might have preferred missing the playoffs entirely in order to stockpile some more lottery talent. It’s admittedly hard to gain positive experience when you take a step backwards.

So here’s an idea.

Maybe Mitchell should divide these last 12 games into simulated four game playoff rounds. I’ve heard of other coaches using this tactic effectively to create that missing sense of urgency and it might be worth a shot starting tonight against the Pistons. If Sam can present the final stretch as one in which Toronto needs to win three of four games in the next three "series" of games in order to "advance" in each one, perhaps he can change the club’s mentality to one which won’t accept a .500 finish.

For the record, I’m not expecting a win tonight against Detroit.

The Pistons have won six of their last 10 with wins over clubs like Phoenix and New Orleans. Toronto has only won two of their last dime with the wins being against two of the top dogs for the number one lottery pick; Seattle and Miami.
However I do expect Toronto to fight this one to the finish and to show some grit in determination as they fight for their playoff lives. This means being in attack mode all night, rebounding the basketball, and playing with some of the fire that we see in the TV commercials on RaptorsTV, but that has been conspicuously absent on the court lately.

If they can do that, who’s to say this won’t be the first in a long line of wins to finish the season?

This team has the talent capable of getting big wins…now it’s time for them to actually go and get them.

FRANCHISE