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

The HQ sees TJ Ford as a big key tonight for a Raptors' win...

The HQ sees TJ Ford as a big key tonight for a Raptors' win...

When RaptorsHQ first got off the ground, Dave Feschuk was one of our constant sources of entertainment.

He put the "Downer" in Debbie and for a while, we had an ongoing "negativity watch" concerning his articles in association with the Raptors.

Interestingly, Feschuk seems to have mellowed, or at least seems to have donned sunglasses that are a lighter shade of drear, in conjunction with Toronto’s success the past few seasons. Is he selling out? Changing his M.O? Listening to too many Hanna Montana records?

I don’t think so. It’s just that post Mike James, this team hasn’t exactly had a ton of drama for him to write about.

That is until this new angle in the whole Jose/TJ debate.

We referenced his piece in our post-game chat yesterday and this morning, it looks like he’s stirring things up anew.

Take this zinger of a passage, one that was already posted this morning by one of our readers:

"In Tuesday's loss in Orlando he put on a ball-hogging exhibition that came complete with seven turnovers and a stream of tunnel-vision shot attempts that appeared to increase in frequency when Calderon strode to the scorer's table to check into the game."

However while the old Feschuk probably would have continued his piece in the same vein, the new one tempers his enthusiasm for doom and gloom with some "let’s look on the bright side" type thoughts concerning "T Ford" such as:

"But it's important to remember that the traits that make Ford occasionally insufferable – a lot of nerve, a chip on his shoulder and a bottomless belief in his superiority – also make him invaluable." TJames tonight... TJames tonight...

To be frank, I’m not sure I care about TJ’s demeanor or attitude towards coming off the bench…so long as it doesn’t affect his play and therefore the entire team’s as a result. The Raptors need some of that "chip on his shoulder" attitude off the pine, but as we’ve discussed, it has to be a controlled presence.

In fact TJ’s play tonight is our first key tonight for a Raptors’ victory…

1) TJ Ford. Ford has been the talk of the Raps of late due to his strange behaviour off the court, and his quite un-point guard-like play on it. However I think his presence this evening, assuming he brings at least his B+ game, could turn the tide in Toronto’s favour. Chris Bosh may try to play tonight, but it sounds like it will be a game-time decision and with a Western conference road swing looming, the Raptors may decide to keep him out of the action until they head out West. The same could be true of Andrea Bargnani, which could leave the Raps without two of their major offensive weapons. If that’s the case, it’s even more important for TJ to play well tonight. There is no one on the Wizards who can guard him one-on-one, and he should be able to use his speed to create havoc on offense and get open shots for team-mates. He should also be able to use his up-fakes and pumps to get the Washington's limited "bigs" into fould trouble. However if Ford resorts to playing the role of Mike James, I’m hoping we see Sam Mitchell out with the quick hook…

2) Intensity and "the little things." The Globe and Mail’s Michael Grange wrote an interesting article earlier this week concerning the Raptors and the lack of a sense of "urgency" surrounding the club. Yes, this team usually bounces back with strong wins after bad losses, but considering how poor the Eastern Conference is after the top two, maybe three teams, he makes a good point in saying that there are relatively few consequences for the Raps if they mail it in for a game. In the West, you have Phoenix sliding towards the ninth spot after only a few losses yet as mentioned yesterday, in the East, a team like these Wizards can lose 12 of 17 and not move a spot in the standings. Think about that for a second! That’s why even though Toronto played well against Miami, are at home, and are up against a Washington club that has been quite terrible lately minus Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas, this looks like a potential trap game to me. We saw the Wizards outwork the Dinos under similar circumstances earlier this year so Toronto needs to bring max effort tonight. This means on the defensive end, on the boards, and even the little things like setting hard screens. I found it interesting that after one of the recent games, Sam Mitchell bemoaned his club’s inability to set hard screens. That seemed like a bit of a head-scratcher to me as the "pick and roll" is in many ways, this team’s bread and butter. However I see his point. When Toronto gets away from the intricacies of the game, be it boxing out, positioning, forcing players off of their strong ball-handling side, or setting picks, you notice that a Raptors’ win suddenly becomes dependent on the team’s offense, in particular their long-range ability. That’s how Toronto got to OT against Washington in their last aforementioned loss to the team as Anthony Parker’s desperation 3 pulled them even at the buzzer. I’d like to see a complete effort by the Raps tonight akin to Wednesday against Miami…truthfully I’m not sure I can take many more of these "we let an easily winnable game get away" type affairs.

The Raptors can't let players like Dominic McGuire out-work them tonight...

The Raptors can't let players like Dominic McGuire out-work them tonight...

3) Rasho, Hump and Beaker. If indeed Toronto is without CB4 and Bargs tonight, one or more of these three post players needs to step up for Toronto, especially on the offensive end. Jose and TJ will hopefully look to get them early touches to help set the tone, but each needs to try not to force anything, yet look to be aggressive in getting to the hoop. I’m not sure if that means seeing Gangsta Beaker leaking out on the break, but it does mean basics like getting good position, looking attack the rim, and finding open team-mates if help arrives. I thought all three played well against Miami, Rasho in particular, and this will be a great opportunity if B&B are absent. And if Bargnani plays, the same goes for him. He should be a tough match-up for the Wizards defenders and needs to continue his aggressive play.

Bottom line is that both this and the next match against Seattle should be Raptor wins even if Bosh is MIA. Toronto has the depth and talent to get two W’s before heading west and we’ll be watching to see if the Dinos perform up to expectations, not play down to the level of their opponents.