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

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Franchise is looking for some Duke-Carolina like intensity from the Raptors

Franchise is looking for some Duke-Carolina like intensity from the Raptors

Forgive me if I’m not breaking out the pom poms for this afternoon’s game…but after watching another epic Blue Devils-Tar Heels match last night, and some great finishes between UCLA and Cal, and Georgetown and Louisville, the prospect of watching another ho-hum effort from the Raps hardly has me quivering in anticipation.

Yes, I realize in a strange way, that the game is perhaps the Toronto Raptors’ biggest of the season to date. A game that the Raps need to win not only for eventual playoff positioning, but also as a major confidence boost considering the club is heading out West to take on the Lakers and Warriors in a back to back, the Nuggets and then the Kings and Jazz back to back.

Not quite murderer’s row, but not exactly Indiana, Charlotte, Orlando, Miami and Washington either.

(Oh wait that’s right, those are the teams Toronto just played and only notched one victory against…)

But I’m not writing this to vilify an already dissed and dismissed Raptors’ squad. No, I’m simply saying that I think my sentiments towards the Dinos of late have been echoed by many readers; this team is extremely frustrating to watch this season.

From botched defensive assignments at key times, to simply a lack of toughness and intensity, I’d argue this is the most frustrating team in the league to watch right now.

Yes I see those Clippers’ fans jumping up and down right now screaming "you’re frustrated, try losing most of your team to injuries throughout the year!"

Fine, that would suck. But if the Raps had lost Bosh and Jose for the season, I’m pretty sure I’d be less annoyed with the club than I am now. Missing key pieces from the get-go sets you up as a fan to mentally prepare for the long season ahead. This Raptor team however just hasn’t consistently taken its play to that proverbial "next level" the way we know it can.

We see it in flashes.

It’s there in spurts.

But not for a sustained period of time and not to the same degree as last year.

"Uh oh, Franchise just pulled out the last year talk."

Well considering we’re over two-thirds through the season (we drop or second trimester recap Monday) I think we can stop tiptoeing around the subject. Let’s just say it:

Last year’s team at this point in time was simply better.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

Everyone feel better now?

Back in late December I wrote about revising this season’s expectations and I think I’m about to do it again.

No, I’m not about to throw in the towel here and say we’re headed back to the lottery, but it’s hard not to think that last year’s success got everyone a bit too primed for a big jump in the standings. I too thought that more depth this season was going to equal more playoff success but so far, it’s only led to curious rotations and inconsistent minutes for nearly everyone on the team. The idea was that the increased depth would help buoy the club through periods of injury. I’m not sure you can say that things have really worked out that way.

So do I think the Raptors are going to lose today against Seattle?

No, in fact I really think Toronto comes out fired up and wins this one in a laugher.

But if they don’t, there are going to be some serious questions being flung around the ACC, and a Western Conference road swing looming that could ostensibly see the Raptors drop out of the fifth spot in the East.

The last thing the Raptors need is an encore of Durant's performance in Seattle earlier this year...

The last thing the Raptors need is an encore of Durant's performance in Seattle earlier this year...

1) Perimeter Defense. Last time these clubs met in Seattle, the Sonics torched Toronto shooting 56 per cent from the field. Kevin Durant had a field day dropping 27 on the Raps and one of the nastiest dunks of the season on Rasho’s head. Toronto has struggled guarding athletic 3’s all year and this will be another hurdle for them to overcome. Durant is no Kobe yet though, so if AP and Jamario Moon can close him off early, it means guys like Gelabale and Wilkins will have to step up. And it’s safe to say that’s a good thing.

2) Andrea Bargnani. No Bosh once again and still no word on whether he’ll miss the road trip. With CB4 out, Bargs needs to step up again in his absence. He did a reasonable job Friday night, especially on the offensive end, but four rebounds considering his playing time isn’t going to cut it. He’s got a great opportunity to seize the spotlight with Chris out, so let’s see him take advantage at both ends of the court against an undermanned Seattle team.

3) Effort. Losing to an Indiana team minus Danny Granger was bad, but with the Pacers shooting, I could rationalize it afterwards as a tough match-up. Against Charlotte – well, they had guys like Okafor and Richardson aka rebounding and a slashing 3 guard, two more of our main weaknesses. But if Toronto loses to a Seattle team that has lost seven of eight and needs to win seven of their remaining 20 games to avoid a 60 loss season, it will officially be rock bottom. The Sonics are a sad state of affairs between the impending move of the franchise out of Seattle, and the complete liquidation of their talent; to put it bluntly, there’s no way Toronto should lose this afternoon. But to ensure this is a Raptors’ W, Toronto can’t try and coast to victory, this must be a complete team effort. Besides the game against the Heat, we just haven’t seen that team effort lately and I’ll be on the lookout for it today.

I’ll also be looking for some passion from the players.

And no, not the half-crazed technical foul inducing type from Primoz Brezec.

I want to see this team start gritting their collective teeth, banging in the paint, getting some floor burns…you know, playing like it’s March, not October.

That’s right folks, March is here, time for the madness, and time for the Raptors to start putting things together, CB4 or no CB4.

FRANCHISE