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

The Raptors will face the Celtics again after accumulating a loss against them on Wednesday.  Vicious D previews the team's second last pre-season game.

In the next weeks we're going to hear a lot of explanations about why this team isn't going the way most of us expect it to.  We're going to hear questions about Turkoglu's injury and fatigue, the lack of chemistry with the first unit, the need for more time to get the defensive sets down and many others.  We're going to expect to lower our expectations for the first month as this team finds its legs and figures out how to be competitive against the better teams of the league.

After all, Colangelo's goal at the end of all of this is 50 wins and to be competitive against the top tiered teams in the NBA.

However, I think as fans, we've already started to lower our expectations for early on.  This is based largely on the injuries sustained in pre-season and the product that we've seen on the court.  Defense, as it has been throughout the summer, has remained the top focus of this team.  However, since Turkoglu's return, the Raptors have been out-shot by opponents and have lowered their free throws attempted per game.  Granted, there's little comparison between the Wizards and Rockets, or the Timberwolves and Celtics, but it is concerning nonetheless.

While I agree that we must temper our expectations, I also believe that this team has to continue to fight hard through all their setbacks.  Showing signs that they are competitive during the first month of regular season games will go a long way towards showing progress in terms of chemistry and that this team has the right pieces to make some waves over the long haul.  For me personally, November won't be about how many wins and losses the Raptors attain, but rather in the method that they do it.  If they get blown out with few answers in areas that simply can't be improved on, the season will look quite bleak for Raptors' fans everywhere.  If the Raptors are simply close to winning games but lose because of poor shooting or a few mistimed turnovers, it will be easier to swallow going forward towards the meat of the season in December and January.

Therefore, there are several keys that I want to outline for tomorrow's game to ensure that these Raptors can continue their development cycle.

1)  3 Point Shooting

The Raptors simply cannot allow themselves to get destroyed on the perimeter the way they were the other night against Houston.  It is going to be a long season if Toronto cannot close out on opponents in control.  During the course of the second half of last season, the Raptors had similar issues defending the perimeter and it's really disturbing to see a return of that weakness.  Now I recognize the fact that the Raptors played the 2nd game of a back-to-back and probably didn't have the legs to go out and cover the arc, so let's see how they close out on Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Rasheed Wallace for this game.  Specifically, I want to see how Hedo Turkoglu handles the defensive schemes since he's had less time with them and has always been targeted as a poor defender.

2)  Extended minutes

Out of five starters, Andrea Bargnani seems to be the only one without conditioning questions.  Chris Bosh is still recovering from injuries, Hedo Turkoglu's problems are well documented, Jose Calderon seems a step slow still as he seems to have taken the summer a little lighter than expected, and DeMar DeRozan is a rookie who will undoubtedly hit that rookie wall sometime during the season.  How Jay Triano gets everyone's minutes up to their seasonal norms will be interesting to see.  Will he attempt to rotate players into the lineup more frequently, but for shorter spurts?  Will he simply look to give his starters more of the first and third quarters of the game?  With only two games to go, Triano has already made comments that his starters minutes will get extended, it's just a matter of how.

3)  Injuries

Everyone's seen the missed Sonny Weems dunk from Thursday's game and his subsequent hobble off the floor.  The Raptors can ill afford to have a banged up roster while they're searching for time to build chemistry.  According to Jay Triano yesterday, Wright played a non-contact practice and will not suit up against the Celtics.   Retaining a fairly healthy Weems is also going to be important as he's been arguably the Raptors' most aggressive offensive-minded player.  Hedo Turkoglu also suffered a small injury on Thursday and had to leave the game for a moment.  And then, of course, there's also Reggie Evans who is going to miss the remainder of pre-season.  The name of the game for the Dinos has to be to stay healthy.  You just can't develop on-court chemistry if people are sitting on the sidelines nursing their various ailments.  The Raptors have already lost valuable time and cannot afford another setback to begin the year.

Game time for today is 3 PM on Raptors TV.   We'll also be live blogging and posting an online link as usual.