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

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With the regular season upon us it’s time for the first preview of the season. In game number 1 the Raps face a Cleveland Cavaliers team with some very familiar faces including Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon. Oh, and let’s not forget the Cavs also acquired some guy named Shaq in the off-season. 

 

Tonight at the ACC the Raptors 2009-2010 regular season will get under way.

It should be a rocking good time and if you have a ticket feel fortunate. Last time I checked the cheapest ticket on Stubhub was $85 and that’s for a single in row 16 of the upper deck. Not surprisingly it’s a hot ticket, in particular with Lebron and Shaq in town.

Make no mistake about it, even though the Cavs will be playing for the second time in two nights, this is going to be a mighty challenge for the new look Raps. It is also going to be a pretty good indication of where this team is after the month long preseason.

It’s hard to say what we are in for or what we should expect from the Raps tonight. Coach Triano played with a variety of different lineups during the preseason and by his own admission, was not running a lot of the offensive sets that the team intends to run from this point forward.

Tonight we will get our first real flavor of this season’s squad (shy Reggie Evans, who on a night like tonight where the team faces a rather massive front court will be greatly missed).

I will be focused, in particular on the new guys. It will be particularly interesting to watch the former Raptors in action. Both Parker and Moon were were heavy minute/rotation players while in Toronto. With the Cavs? Not so much. Parker, although starting is not being asked to do more than he is capable of and Moon is the 8th or 9th guy. This was far from being the case when these guys were in TO. Actually, wouldn't Parker and Moon be considered key guys if they were still here? I think so and that's pretty telling.  

On the Raps side of things my eyes will be squarely on Hedo Turkoglu. Given his skill sets it will be interesting to see just how much Hedo handles the rock, how much he is involved in a pick and roll and more importantly how the Raps plan on masking his defensive flaws against Lebron.

It’s hard not to be excited about Raps ball being back. Unfortunately the home opener is against a team whose name is in the championship mix and just got beat on their own home court. I don't think anyone expects to see the Cavs start the season 0-2. Nevertheless, what’s it going to take for the Raps to secure an unlikely W?

The Crowd: The crowd is going to have to play the role of sixth man this evening. There will be a few key points in tonight’s game which will dictate the outcome and the fans have to rise to the occasion and give this team a lift. Under no circumstances, no matter what the expectations, can the fans turn on the team should things not start to go the Raps way. If the Raps have any chance to win they will need to feed off the energy of the crowd as the Cavs start to feel the effects of playing the first back-to-back of the season. If the crowd was going to really get revved up tonight hopefully it will be when the bench players get into the mix. It was clear that the Cavs bench is a work in progress and the Raps need to take advantage at that moment.

Gang Rebounding: Shaquille O’Neal, Anderson Varejao and Zydrunas Ilglauskas combined make for a sizable front court and when put alongside the likes of Lebron James one that should, on most occasions, destroy their opponent on the glass. These are the types of teams that the Raps will struggle with. I have little doubt that the Raps are going to get beat on the glass and therefore the question is whether they can keep the rebounding differential at a respectable number. Giving the Cavs extra opportunities is a recipe for suffering the first loss of the season. I noted on a number of occasions through the preseason that the only players willing to crash the boards on a regular basis were Reggie Evans and Sonny Weems as the rest of the team just seemed satisfied hanging out on the perimeter or making their way back down the court. With Evans still on the shelf and Weems on the inactive list, someone is going to have to step-up and make a difference on the glass. I am just not sure who, if anyone, will.

Withstand the Punishment: By all accounts King James feels like he has improved his game over the summer. That is a scary thought. Arguably the most dominant and explosive player in the game it’s almost impossible to imagine Lebron being any better than he has been over the course of the past two seasons. The Raps will get their first taste of Lebron this evening and it’s going to take a serious effort to prevent him from completely dominating this game. Lebron is going to punish this Raps team, the question really is whether the Raps can somehow withstand it. Defensive rotations are going to be absolutely key in this game. No-one on the Raps can come anywhere near defending the King so expect numerous double teams. That of course means someone is going to be left open. If the Raps are not quick to adjust and rotate then it could make for a long night. We have all seen Parker nail the three and he, along with Mo Williams and others could have a field day from beyond the arc should the Raps be even a half a step slow.

It’s going to be a test and the first of many over the course of the next month. Hopefully this team can start off on the right foot.

Go Raps!