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

Vicious D takes a look at the upcoming rematch against the Phoenix Suns as the Raptors try to stop a slide down the Eastern Conference standings.


That has to be the word to describe how a lot of Raptors' fans feel these days. 

There seems to be a lot of fans outside of our circle of Dino-backers who are not exactly pleased with how the Raptors have played. While many of us accept that "a win is a win", the fans have shown even in recent Raptors wins that we are not exactly loud and proud of this team.  For example, there's a lot of double thinking these days.  Some people believe that this team is good enough to win any game because of their offense ability.  Others believe that this team can lose any game thanks to their propensity to stop scoring for entire quarters and their lack of defense.  Some people point to the Raptors offensive efficiency as a stat line that shows all that is good with this team. Others take a look at the lack of aggression from our starting unit are are worried about how this team is every going to set the tempo night in, night out.

It's here where we at the HQ are partially divided in our views.  Howland and Franchise have both had deep doubts about this team, while I have been fairly optimistic since the summer of acquisitions.  I've waited and tried to be patient with this team as many of you have been and so far the reward for our patience has been pretty poor.  Recently, it seems like this team is even further from its defensive goals than at the beginning of the year.

Translation - I'm going to stop being a happy camper soon.

However, the Raptors are going to face another in a series of harsh tests.  Against the Phoenix Suns earlier this year, the Raptors showed some ability to remain competitive.  They brought Phoenix down to one point in the Suns' own stadium and had a chance at a final shot to win it.  In today's match, they'll have to bring more of the same, but I have questions about whether this team remembers how they played the Suns last time.  So here are my three keys:

1)  Fouls

Raptors can afford to take some chances in their defense thanks to their bench.  Some times, this team has actually gotten better because some of their most active players come from said bench.  The Suns?  Not so much.  It's therefore important that Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani do whatever they can do to rack up the fouls on the Suns, especially Amare Stoudemire.  I know it's asking a lot, especially of Bargnani, but Bargnani has shown some ability to draw them in the recent past.  We've seen him use that pump fake to draw a foul and get to the line.  We just haven't seen it lately.  Jose Calderon?  Yup, he can get to the line too at times.  DeMar DeRozan?  Sure, but can he get some foul shots to go down?  Fact of the matter is, the Raptors have plenty of ability to play aggressive ball, it's just that they seem to have it in their heads that they should be trying to get to the open shot rather than drawing a foul. Hmm.  I wonder if three seasons of hearing that in their ears may have fostered a bad philosophy.

Where's Butch Carter when you need him?  Speaking of Coaches

2) Jay Triano

How much Jay Triano decides to use his most aggressive players will be telling.  There's reasons why the Raptors did well last time, and it was largely thanks to guys like Sonny Weems, Marco Belinelli, and Amir Johnson being giving the Raps a drop of nastiness.  We at the HQ have been clamouring for more Weems, but it seems to have largely fallen on deaf ears.  If the staff hasn't gotten it by now, the Raptors are best when they are aggressive on the offensive side, which seems to spur the Raptors into being more aggressive defensively.  Jack Armstrong might say that this is a bad way of doing things, but if the Raptors are built as an offensive club, anything they can do to play a little better defense should be done in my opinion.  It's therefore up to Triano and coaching staff to realize what needs to be done here with the team and fast.  Otherwise the Raptors may never get out of the rut that they're stuck in. 

Oh and Triano doesn't figure it out soon, I may be one of the first to call for a cleaning of house.  Especially if this whole "open shot" philosophy was Alex English's idea. 

3) Home Support

Connecting the dots further, if the Raptors want home support, they better start doing things that garner the attention of the ACC crowds.  Chris Bosh and others may lament about the fans and the booing and others might not understand it, but in general, the crowd isn't dumb.  When we see a ton of open 3's being made on our team, we question the defensive heart.  When the Raptors keep settling for jumpers, it once again causes the crowd to turn on them.  What makes the crowd happy and on their side?  For starters, good defense which leads to transition points.  I know it's an odd concept, but getting hands in the passing lanes and then bringing the ball up the court for an easy basket is a simple way to get the crowd on your side.  Go aggressive to the basket and the refs don't make the call?  Well the entire ACC hates that and will rain many kinds of unspeakables from the stands.   Torontonians have always embraced aggression and toughness and it's about time our players understood that.  Especially those most critical of the fans.


Incidentally, Howland, Franchise and myself will be at the game today, all from different vantage points.  Franchise and Howland have media access so will be bringing all sorts of exclusive goodies in tomorrow's recap, plus will be live-blogging this one from press row.

I'll be on "fan duty" and hoping to get a different perspective from there.

On paper, I don't see how this Raptors team is going to beat the Suns with their same strategy they've tried for the past week.  We've seen 3rd quarter let downs and early garbage time far too frequently for my tastes.  However, Toronto managed to take it to the Suns before.  They can do it again and if they can manage to sustain their effort for 48 minutes, they should be able to get a win.

Here's hoping from the lower bowl.