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

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Is this team headed for the edge?  Tonight's game against Chicago may go a long way in letting us know...

Is this team headed for the edge? Tonight's game against Chicago may go a long way in letting us know...

If you're a Toronto Raptor right now, how do you regain confidence?

Confidence, in my experience, is something you gain with experience. It is simply a belief established by your history and how you've handled yourself in the past.

However, turning around a barrel headed off of Niagara Falls can be quite difficult. It's not as though the Raptors have not had their chances in the past two weeks. Sub .500 teams have been a dime a dozen lately and the excuse of a tough schedule is starting to fall apart.

But momentum is a funny thing, and once that ball start rolling in one direction, it's really hard to fight the flow. Even the worst teams are giving the Raptors a hard fought battle, and it seems like ages ago since we talked about the strong push to start 2009.

Which is why many of us have been calling for a trade.

We never thought that Sam Mitchell by himself was the lone problem of this team. He was simply the first piece that had to be changed. And while I thought Bryan Colangelo had to make another major move before the end of the year, I could also understand a need for Colangelo to play possum and make it look like he thought this was still a good team.

Nevertheless, the fan base has grown restless, speculation has ramped up yet another level thanks to Alonzo Mourning's retirement (http://www.thestar.com/Sports/article/575559), and the question seems to no longer be about if a trade will happen, but when and for what pieces.

I for one, will leave that speculation for others and will instead focus on tonight's match up.

Against Chicago last time, the Raptors gave such a lackluster effort that we at the HQ were ready to sell every single piece off and blow up the team like it was 2006 all over again. Sure, Bargnani saw himself hit the 30 point plateau, but the rest of the team seemed far behind and unable to punish one of the lower tiered teams of the NBA. A string of four more losses later, and the Raptors now find themselves looking for yet another opportunity to start to pull things around. With those four more losses though, it'll be that much harder, which is why they've gotta execute these three keys:

1) Out Rebounded? Look at the Wings.

I think we've written about rebounding just about every single time this year, and it's not going to stop until the Raptors do something about it. For one thing, I believe my own will is stronger than the Raptors'. For another, the Raptors cannot allow guys like Luol freakin' Deng to be the top rebounder for the night like they did last time. Deng managed to grab 14 rebounds to lead everyone on both teams, while also grabbing five offensive rebounds, to which I say if you don't box out, you should get nailed to the bench.

2) Pick a Rose, any Rose.

Kris Humphries, one of my buddy's personal favourites, is going to be out for weeks with a broken fibula, which probably means that Jake Voskhul is going to need to get in the game. And well, if Jake's in the game, I sure as heck don't want to see him take 10 ft jumpers like he has been the last few games. The reason why Jake was so effective in his first games was that the Raptors tried to use him to set hard picks on just about every single player. In the past while, I've not seen those picks nor have I seen the Raptors offense even attempt to establish him as a screening candidate. Perhaps emblematic of a struggling team, the Raptors simply forget about what got them those tough wins at the beginning of the month, but I think it's about time we reminded them.

3) Quick rotations with communication.

I know I'm asking for a lot with this last one. However, if memory serves me correct, it was the quick, decisive passing of the Bulls that got our Raptors in trouble the last game. As the ball moved from one side to the other, the rotations of the Raptors frequently fell behind thanks to a lack of communication between players and blown assignments. There's only really two ways to counter that kind of ball movement. The first is to disrupt passing lanes, and the second is to rotate effectively so that the Bulls simply use up too much of the shot clock. The Raptors are capable of doing this at times, but doing it for a full game has to be the goal. Otherwise the Bulls will hit almost 49% of their shots again.

I've gotta wonder though, just how much more a coach can do in this situation? Triano's already pulled out the stick more than once, practically refusing to coach the team because they played so poorly, but such antics are merely a simple fix. If I had a fourth key to this game, it's be simply to not create new problems for themselves. In the past while, we've seen areas that were once not problems now suddenly become top issues. Turnovers, interior defense, three point shooting, and the list goes on. If at least the problems were consistent, I'm sure the coaches would be able to focus on drills to improve those areas, but unfortunately, that's not the case.

I just hope this team doesn't find a new way to lose tonight. I just don't know if our fanbase can take much more of this.

Vicious D