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

After a brutal and highly criticized loss to a shorthanded Spurs team, the Raps come back to the (friendly?) ACC for a match-up against the Chicago Bulls before once again packing their bags for the West Coast.

Can the Raptors secure a win against the Chicago Bulls?

After the debaucle in San Antonio is there not a more fitting time for the league to release the 2009-2010 All-Star Ballot? I mean after the loss to the Spurs don't you just want to grab as many voting cards as you can and send all four of Andrea Bargnani, Chris Bosh, Hedo Turkoglu and Jose Calderon to the All-Star game?! 

Ok, so it is a little too early to think about All-Star selections, but it is true that the Ballot has been released and there are four current Raptors listed.

It's also true that if the team continues to play like they did Monday night that no-one outside of CB4 will have even the slightest chance of making the trip to Dallas to play in Sunday's game.

But let's leave the All-Star talk for later this season and leave Monday's disappointing effort behind and focus on the game at hand.

In fact, if I was Coach Triano that is the exact message I would be relaying to the players prior to tonight's game. There is, after all, at least defensively, no-where to go but up. It would almost be unfathomable for the Raps to give up more points then they have over the past two games. (If you were counting at home they have given up 260 points in the past two contests.)

Working in the Raptors favor is that Chicago might be one of the best opponents in the league for a team hoping to hold its opponent to less than...100 points.

After seven games the Bulls offence has only scored on average, 88.6 points per game. That puts them second last, just ahead of the Charlotte Bobcats. This is not a team built to win games by simply outscoring its opponent, but a team that likes to use the shot clock and get good looks at the hoop.

This approach has worked thus far mostly because their offensive style of play has been complemented by some solid defense. So far this season, the Bulls have only allowed one opponent to score over 100 points and over the past four games (3-1, the only loss coming last night to the Nuggets when a buzzer beater by Miller was denied) they have held their opponents to just under 87 points per game. Now that's some good defense.

Also working in the Raps favor tonight is that the Bulls, are not a strong 3 point shooting team. As a team their 3 point shooting percentage is below 25% (4-18 last night) and their best three-point shooter percentage wise is Luol Deng...but he has only taken four shots from beyond the arc all year. If the Raps intend to collapse the paint to prevent the likes of Derrick Rose, John Salmons and Kirk Hinrich from attacking the rim at will, the stats would indicate that this the team to do it against. 

Of course these are NBA shooters and if you give them wide open looks time and time again eventually you will get burned.

It will be interesting to see how the Raps respond in tonight's match-up as their current mini-slide could easily turn into a full-blown slump considering their next opponents (Clippers, Suns, Nuggets, Jazz). If there is one game where a W is more likely than not, it is probably the one at home facing a team playing the second half of a back-to-back.

Of course if the team continues to have defensive woes don't expect the ACC crowd to sit idle. If the Raps show little effort I am sure the Boo-birds will be out in full force. If this were to happen I don't think I would have issue with it.

And here are tonight's three keys to the game.

Setting the tempo: Two teams with two completely different styles. The Raps can score and allow their opponents to score. The Bulls are the polar opposite. The team that dictates the tempo of the game for the greatest period of time should win. That might be over simplifying it but if the Raps can't keep a high tempo then the Bulls will grind them down. The Bulls may not be the most exciting team to watch but they are getting the job done, even without Tyrus Thomas and a slow starting Rose.

The Three Ball: The mantra for the 2009-2010 Raptors should really be "Live by the three, die by the three." If the Raps shooters are hot the Bulls won't have an answer. If the Raps shoot like they did in New Orleans or against Detroit you have to like their chances as the Bulls simply don't have the offensive firepower to keep up. If the shots don't drop then what are the Raps to do? I would suggest defend but....

Defence: For the foreseeable future defense will inevitably be one of the three keys. In any shape or form the Raptors have to show they at least have a pulse on the defensive end. Without it they have no chance of living up to the expectations of many.

In this match-up the thing to watch is Derrick Rose against Jose Calderon and Jarrett Jack. The Raptors PG's have to slow him down and keep him from dominating. If they can't I would suggest Triano have Hedo run the point but stick Sonny Weems on Rose. Weems might be the only guy on the Raps roster with the quicks to put up some resistance.  

This is a winnable game, but if the Raps fail to secure the W at least all those in attendance will have had the opportunity to thank Chuck Swirsky for all his work while with the team.

That's one positive...right?

To get the Bulls side of the story visit Blog a Bull.