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3 In the Key: Toronto Raptors Game Day Preview vs. Bucks

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Camp B mascot???

Team B mascot???

It was just a short while a go that I wrote about Raptors fans being in one of two camps.

To refresh, there is Camp A who is for those fans who "feel that despite the recent losses there is much to be positive about, in particular the emergence of Andrea Bargnani, and with the return of JO and Calderon there’s a good chance this team can turn things around in the second half and grab a playoff spot."

On the flip side there is Camp B who for those fans who "feel this team is in tatters, wonders whether Bosh is counting down his days to free agency, and debating how, not when, Bryan Colangelo will start blowing things up."

Depending on what camp your allegiances lie, you are going to want very different results from tonight’s match-up against the Bucks.

For all the campers with the letter "A" on their sweater tonight’s match-up is absolutely huge. The team is more or less healthy and after getting a rare "break" in the swamp with the missed jumper by Devin Harris, a Raps win tonight would put them only one game back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Suddenly the sun seems to be breaking through what has been a long overcast sky. You’ll be cheering for the W like it’s a playoff game.

Now for all the campers with the letter "B" sewn into their vests a win tonight is only going to delay the inevitable. In fact, a loss would better serve this team as it might be the final straw before BC looks to really push JO and possibly others out the front door. Besides, who wants to play the Cavs, Celtics or Orlando in the first round? Best case scenario is the Raps look solid, get a great game from JO yet somehow fall short leaving the Raps three games out with no less than a half dozen squads vying for that last spot.

For all those fans in either Camp A or B, there are also a ton of Raps fans sitting on the fence as the situation at hand is not that cut and dry. It is a similar feeling to when as a kid my parents gave me a couple brochures for basketball camps during the summer and I had to decide which one to attend. Living out East the two best camps were at Dalhousie and St. FX. Both had their redeeming features but it was really hard to figure out which was the best one. It was tough to decide.

This is life as a Raptors fan right now. It’s getting harder as the season progresses to determine just how you feel about this team. Which way do we want this team to go? It’s always easier to be a pessimist but at the same time there is a little optimism floating around which is hard to ignore.

Tonight’s result could really help many Raptors fans who are sitting on the fence finally decide what camp to subscribe to and with the recent rash of injuries to the Milwaukee Bucks, there is a really good likelihood that Camp A is going to need some more cots and a lot more picnic tables in the meal hall.

For all the injuries the Raps have suffered and dealt with this season (Bargs and Bosh are the only two guys to have suited up and played every game thus far) there will be no pity coming from the State of Wisconsin. The Bucks, who looked like they were buying into what Scott Skiles was selling and turning the corner, have been decimated by injuries this season. Andrew Bogut has been MIA for a solid chunk of the season, Ridnour is out with a concussion, Redd’s devastating knee injury is well known and even the lesser players like Charlie Bell have been nicked up. The Bucks have been more like wounded deer this season.

Not only are the Raps going to be facing an undermanned Milwaukee team, it is also facing a team coming off a bad loss to the Indiana Pacers who were shy their best player in Danny Granger. After the game Skiles made no excuses for the loss and is clearly trying to light a fire under his team with quotes like this one:

"We didn’t come ready. We were very sluggish. Right before halftime we started to play and we carried that over into the second half. But we couldn’t get it done. How could we not be ready for a game like this? We don’t yet understand the intensity we have to play with all game long."

Intensity is something that this team collectively may be lacking, but there is one individual on this Bucks team that seems keen on raising his game to help offset the recent losses. That guy? The one and only Charlie Villaneuva. CV Smooth has been playing arguably the best basketball of his career as of late and taking full advantage of being the main offensive threat for this squad. He has averaged around 25 and 9 over the past couple of weeks and he seems to be embracing this bigger role. After putting up some solid numbers against the Pacers Villaneuva didn’t shy away from the fact that he still needs to do more stating:

"We have to step up more; I have to take it upon my self to step up more."

Charlie will be attacking tonight. Will CB4 be ready?

Charlie will be attacking tonight. Will CB4 be ready?

Charlie has always been an HQ favorite and it’s great to see him elevate his game while Michael Redd is out.

That leads us to tonight’s three keys:

1. Stop the Smooth: Charlie V. is slowly garnering the reputation of a Raptors killer. He always seems to step his game up against the team that drafted him. Given the other offensive threats on this Bucks squad the defensive philosophy has to be one of stopping number 31 and challenging the others to beat you. CB4 will be shouldering much of the responsibility here. Hopefully Bosh will be able to not only force Villaneuva to work on the offensive end but also spend a great deal of his energy on the defensive end as well. This is always a fun match-up and one the Raps need to win.

2.School is in Session(s): Another quick PG for Calderon to deal with on the defensive end (albeit not the threat of Devin Haris) this match-up should be an interesting one. Although the Bucks are missing their best shooter they still have guys who can hit from long range and Calderon has to do his best to prevent dribble penetration. Calderon looks to be about as close to 100% and this will be a good litmus test to see if that is true.

3. Anthony Parker: AP is going to be key in this game. Given the back-up PGs for the Bucks now are Charlie Bell and Tyronn Lue Parker will have a distinct advantage when Calderon is getting a breather. Hopefully Triano is able to draw up a few plays where the Raps try and establish Parker in the block (much like Lawrence Frank used to with Kidd) and get him easy looks. It AP can have another night where he flirts with a triple-double it could be a very good night for the Raps.

HOWLAND