It's been a tale of two cities so far on this road trip for the Toronto Raptors. First they thumped the New Orleans Hornets, then got wacked themselves by the Dallas Mavericks' high-octane offense. Tonight the Dinos take on the Spurs looking to finish off their mini road-swing with a W...
I guess you could say fans have seen the highs and lows on this road trip so far.
The highs, starting with Chris Bosh and ending with Toronto's deadly long-range offense when clicking, the lows, perimeter defense, rebounding and decision-making.
The question on many a fan's mind right now therefore is "which team is going to show up each night?"
The one that drops 14 triples on the opponent, running them out of the gym?
Or the one that can't seem to get stops, and despite all the scoring it does, loses in an "OK Corral Shoot-out" type game.
It's a good question, and one that Jay Triano and his staff are going to have to work on answering each and every game, preferably by having the club show some balance between the two scenarios. With such a lack of interior scoring (it's essentially Bosh and...the occasional Hedo or Jose lay-up) the defence needs to be able to keep the opponent in check at times when the jump shots just aren't falling.
Tonight Toronto will get to test both ends of the spectrum against the mighty San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs, while looking like a pre-season favourite to head back to the Western Conference Finals, haven't looked all that impressive to start the season. They come in with a sub .500 record and have lost two straight. I've seen them play a few times already this season, and while they're still trying to acclimatize some new players, the club just doesn't look as deadly as other Western powers like Los Angeles and Dallas. For the Raptors then, there may not be a better time to catch the Spurs on the schedule, especially since it sounds like Tony Parker is going to be sitting this one out with a sore ankle.
It's a-propos then that we kick off our "3 Keys" with a look at the point guard position...
1) Battle at the 1.
It was great to see the Jose Calderon that we all know and love back in effect the past two games. Even with another ball-handler on the court in Hedo Turkoglu, and a competent back-up this season in Jarrett Jack, the team still depends on Jose's sharp-shooting to make opponents pay on screen-and-roll situations, a key element to TO's offence.
Defensively Jose has still had his struggles but tonight at least he won't have to chase around the uber-quick Tony Parker. George Hill will likely get the start and while a better defender than Parker, he likely won't wreak the same sort of havoc in the paint as Parker.
That's why I'm looking squarely at Jose to lead the charge tonight. He should be able to keep his man in front of him on D, and on O, find open looks by running Hill through various screen-and-roll scenarios. If Jose gets up into the double digit assist range, hits his open looks and keeps Hill from being a scoring option, that bodes extremely well for a Raptors' win.
2) 3-Point Shooting.
It's no secret that this will probably be a reoccurring key all season for Toronto. This is the team's forte and when they are on and get open looks, it's trouble for the opposing team.
The interesting thing is that the San Antonio Spurs give up the second least 3-point attempts in the league, barely falling behind the LA Clippers of all teams, in this category. And in addition, the Spurs on offense, have thrown up almost as many as the Raps so far this season, although they haven't had the same success in making them.
That's why I feel that this key could really be a decider this evening.
Here we have a Raptors' team that tends to live and die by the 3-ball, and a San Antonio team that excels in preventing opponents from tossing them up. Toronto is in fact averaging almost nine made 3's a game, whereas San Antonio is giving up only four on average.
Something's going to have to give, and we'll see tonight if it's SA's D or Toronto's long-range shooting.
3) Andrea Bargnani.
Aaah the nightly X Factor. When he's on offensively and working hard to defend and grab rebounds, he can take Toronto to another level of play. He did some nice work against Dallas but just isn't on the same level as his doppelganger, Dirk Nowitzki. Tonight however he'll be able to take advantage of his range and quickness as he'll likely be matched up against players that like to reside more in the paint such as Tim Duncan and Antonio McDyess.
If he can get going early and mix it up inside, then the Raptors become much-less one-dimensional offensively, posing a tougher task for the veteran Spurs.
Tonight's game tips off at 8:30 PM on Raptors TV for those with access, and of course we'll be live blogging and posting a link to a feed as well.
I expect a close, hard-fought match, and hopefully Toronto can squeeze out the win.