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

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First off, apologies for the delay in posting this preview. It’s been a hectic week for me outside of the HQ so things got a bit backed up this morning.

And really, considering how poorly the team has played the past two games, it’s not like we really need a huge in-depth preview for tonight’s game to know what the Toronto Raptors need to do to get a win.

Hedo...my favourite fake All-Star...
Hedo...my favourite fake All-Star...
So with that in mind, we’ll cut to our three keys, and then get into a little more depth regarding what’s in store for a suddenly rudderless club.

1) Build a wall around Dwight Howard. Here’s the thing, outside of Howard, the Magic aren’t actually a great rebounding team. Both Hedo and Rashard Lewis are decent on the glass, but who else is there – Pat Garrity? Martin Gortat? That being said, Howard is capable of pulling down 30 boards himself if Toronto rebounds like it did against the Bobcats and therefore his efforts alone in this area could sink the Raps. So the first key is obviously to put a body on Dwight. I’m guessing this will be Rasho’s job and Nesterovic has done a good job in the past on Dwight. What concerns me however is what happens when Rasho sits? Mitchell is really going to have to look to rest Nesterovic only when Howard is off the court and match up with Magic coach Stan VanGundy’s line-up changes. I don’t know about you but the idea of Bargnani or even Hump on Howard doesn’t sit well with me.

In fact, I’m not worried so much about Howard dominating on the boards as I am about his shot-blocking abilities. Chris Bosh has had his way offensively with Howard in the past but without CB4, this team might have a tough time getting easy buckets around the rim, especially considering how hesitant they are to drive to the hole. This means an even bigger reliance than usual on plan A, a very scary thought.

2) Point guard play. There is no question about it, if there’s no plan B tonight, or very little, the Raptors’ point guards need to maximize Plan A. This means both Ford and Calderon need to push the tempo, expose the seams in the Magic’s D, get to the rim and make good decisions with the ball in transition. The Raptors should have a large advantage in this area and in a game that on paper looks like a loss, some great play from Toronto’s two floor generals would go a long way towards affecting the final outcome.

3) Grit. Reason number 256 why I’m dreading this game - the Magic represent a lethal combination of the two areas that killed Toronto the past two games; ability to shoot from long distance and space out opponents, and interior rebounding and toughness. For this reason I’m going to throw out all the X’s and O’s of strategery, as George W would say, and simply end the keys on this note. The Raptors NEED to show some toughness tonight. I was extremely disappointed in the lack of heart from everyone except Primoz and AP last game and this team needs to start getting its back up. I know we’ve got a team of nice guys here, but if they don’t start playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulder, we could be talking about a .500 team sooner rather than later. The Magic are no Pistons and if Toronto can come out and set the tone early, then this bodes well for a win.

And let’s look at things a bit further shall we?

A third straight loss going into a back-to-back against Miami is not exactly how you want to start the month, especially with a tough five-game road swing out West looming. Factor in a Wizards team that has Gilbert cleared to play and Caron on the mend, and a surprising 76ers team coming on strong, and Toronto really can’t afford to keep losing too many games. Falling into sixth is one thing, but falling any lower than that and they might as well miss the playoffs entirely and shoot for another top pick in the draft. (Ok, so I’m SLIGHTLY partial to Michael Beasley.) But in all seriousness, we’ve seen a team the past two games that has looked completely lost and definitely undeserving of so much of the "sleeper" praise that has been lauded on them recently.

I expect to see Toronto come out with some fight tonight, and play to their abilities, even if that means taking an inordinate amount of jump shots.

To use the most over-worked catch-phrase in sports right now, hey, the Raptors "are what they are."

Let's see what Bargs can do tonight against Lewis...

Let's see what Bargs can do tonight against Lewis...

Finally, this team needs an A1 performance from Andrea Bargnani. Bargs has had an up and down season but we’ve seen just how dominant he can be a times. He has a nice size advantage on Rashard Lewis so I’m hoping to see him attack from the low block. Hopefully this makes Howard double over leaving Rasho free for his patented garbage hoops around the rim. As much as TJ and Jose control the flow of the game for Toronto, an offence that runs through a motivated Bargnani could really help get the proverbial monkey off this team’s back.

FRANCHISE