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3 In the Key - Toronto Raptors Game-Day Preview vs. Rockets

The Raps take on the Rockets tonight in their sixth pre-season battle with Toronto looking to redeem themselves after last night's loss to the Celtics.  Franchise takes a quick look at the match-up...

Let's hope this isn't an omen for the upcoming season.

Last night the Toronto Raptors got back forward Hedo Turkoglu after he sat out the first four pre-season games, only to lose power forward Reggie Evans to a sprained ankle.

No word as of yet regarding the extent of injury but by all accounts he won't be playing tonight and will be reevaluated today.

However this might actually be a good thing in the long term.

In the short term, yes, it means missing another key piece of the probable 8 to 9 man rotation that coach Jay Triano is trying to get on the same page chemistry wise.  However this also opens up more playing time for Amir Johnson, who so far this preseason looks like he deserves as much burn as possible.  I'll argue that the more minutes Johnson can get now can only benefit this club in the long term, so provided the Evans injury isn't severe, I'm not sure Raps' fans should lose too much sleep.

A bigger concern to me is beginning to get this rotation figured out, from the starters on down.  As mentioned this morning, this is going to take some time so while I fully expect the Calderon-DeRozan-Turkoglu-Bosh-Bargnani quintet to be rolled out again this evening, I hope we start to see some stability from six on down as well.

Tonight's opponent, the Houston Rockets, represent a very interesting pre-season test for the Raptors in fact.  They are without Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady of course due to injury, and everyone's familiar with the Artest and Ariza version of TLC's Trading Spaces.  But even without the big names, this team should represent a tough test for the Raps, considering it mainly now consists of gritty vets and solid defenders.  Let's take a look at our three keys:


1) The Point Guard Position.

I'll say this again - Jose Calderon has not impressed me at all so far this pre-season.

-Yes, I've only seen the last three games. 

-Yes, it's pre-season. 

-Yes, Jarrett Jack hasn't shot the ball well at all.

But in spite of all this, he just doesn't look right to me.  The "turn-the-corner-on-anyone" bounce isn't there right now, and he just looks a bit lost, even in regards to his chemistry with Mr. Bosh.  Last night on a number of occasions Jose forced things into the post, something that had me scratching my head.

And on top of this, he's still getting abused at the point of attack.  It got to the point where Bargs was coming out early on Rondo at times to try to slow things down, and that was leaving Kendrick Perkins open under the rim.

I'm not saying there's a point guard controversy or that Jack should be starting.  However I do feel Jack has outplayed Jose lately and the team is going to need more from Mr. Calderon if it wants to compete with the Bostons and Orlandos.  Tonight he faces the lightning quick Aaron Brooks so this should be another good preparatory assignment for number ocho. 

2) Bargs and Hedo.

It was great to see these two on the court together last night and at times, they made some spectacular feeds to each other. At other times of course, things were just off and turnovers were the result. In particular, I'm hoping that tonight we get to see the offense run more through both of these multi-skilled players. Last night the ball just sort of went to Bosh in the post...and that was about it. Again, Andrea and Hedo are two huge pieces in the 2009-10 Raptors puzzle so it's imperative they start getting comfortable in the new offensive sets as well.

3) Points in the Paint.

This is my X factor tonight. Last night when Toronto was getting on the glass and attacking the rim, the result was a Raptor lead on the scoreboard. In the third quarter Boston started to seize the advantage in this area and things started to go down hill from there. In particular, Andrea Bargnani came out very aggressive and I'm hoping that's the case again tonight. Houston has a number of undersized "bigs" so he should be able to use his inside-outside game to wreak havoc.

This goes for Toronto's wings as well.  Sonny Weems helped give the Raptors a boost off the bench as he continued to look to push the tempo and attack.  Hopefully others like DeRozan and Belinelli will follow suit

Tonight's game tips off at 7 PM on Raptors TV for those with access, and of course we'll be live blogging and posting an online link as usual.