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3 In the Key – Toronto Raptors Game Day Preview vs. Detroit

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Back in the starting line-up and loving it!

Back in the starting line-up and loving it!

So all the playoff talk is dead now right?

Good.

It’s going to be difficult for the hardcore Raps fans to want to talk about anything but the off-season going forward but there is still a month left in the season and 17 games remaining.

So other than playing the young guys as suggested by Franchise yesterday what else is there for the Raps? Unless this team is satisfied going through the paces and doing their best rendition of Dead Man Walking, collectively they are going to have to find something to play for.

Well considering how devastating this season has been perhaps the Raps can take out their frustrations on their opponents and try to ruin a few seasons themselves. Considering the upcoming schedule this has to be the best strategy.

Out of the team’s remaining 17 games, 12 if them are against Eastern Conference teams either trying to secure their playoff position or fighting to get in. Just look at the upcoming opponents:

Chicago - 2 games
Charlotte – 2 games
New York – 2 games
Indiana – 2 games
Milwaukee – 1 game
76ers – 1 game
Atlanta – 1 game
Detroit – 1 game

All of these teams are yet to secure a playoff position and save for Atlanta none of them are what I would call a "sure thing". Given this schedule, how Toronto plays over the next month is going to be instrumental in determining what teams do and do not find themselves playing in the 2009 NBA Playoffs…provided the Raptors put up a fight.

Of course as discussed yesterday, putting up fight is not something the Raps have managed to do a lot of lately.

Some of the blame for the lack of energy shown by the team has of late has been directed at Chris Bosh and rightfully so. There is another individual who should be held partially accountable as well, and that is Coach Triano. Despite all the time Triano has spent around these players it is evident at this point that, although he may have their respect, he does not have their ear. Triano, over less than half a season seems to have lost this team already.

When a team tanks, like the Raps have, it’s pretty damaging for a coach, in particular one looking to remove the word "interim" from their title. Triano has had a difficult time getting these guys motivated and playing hard for 48 minutes which is main reason why he won’t be back on the bench next season. If these players wanted to keep Jay around next season then they would be playing that way. Unfortunately that is not the case and Triano has been unable to right this sinking ship.

If Triano does want to give Colangelo reason to believe he could become the head coach next season his time is running short. He is going to have to find someway to motivate these guys and maybe selling the role of spoiler juts might do it. It’s probably a last resort approach, but really what else is there.

If the Raps do care to embrace the spoiler role tonight’s match-up against the Pistons would be the perfect time to start. Detroit has, for so many years, been an elite team in the East but this season Joe Dumars has made some moves that although likely to be beneficial long term have essentially booted the Pistons from the NBA Championship discussion. That being said, like most teams in the East they are still in playoff contention with a record of one game over .500.

Not a lot of smiling from Triano these days.

Not a lot of smiling from Triano these days.

It has been a turbulent year in Detroit since the Iverson/Billups deal yet this team has still managed to keep itself afloat and even with Iverson sidelined they are playing decent basketball having beaten Orlando, Denver and Boston in their last six games. If the Raps want to win tonight’s game they will need to focus on these three things:

1. Perimeter Defense: If the Raps have any hope of getting a W it will be because Parker, Calderon and Marion all brought their A game on the defensive end. All of Stuckey, Hamilton and Prince can put the ball on the floor and find ways to create for their teammates. If the Raps have a tough time containing the backcourt it is going to be a long night. Now that Hamilton is back in the starting line-up and producing at a high level good things have happened for the Pistons. The match-up as between Parker and Hamilton is one to keep your eyes on.

2. Maintain the Energy: During an NBA game there ups and downs for each team. How Toronto responds when the Pistons go on a run will determine the outcome of the game. Will the Raps just roll over like a dog or will they fight through? The Raps are going to need to keep an even keel in this game and roll with the punches or else there are going to get knocked out early.

3. Bench Play: One thing the Pistons don’t have is an extremely deep or talented bench. Kwame Brown and Walter Herrmann don’t strike fear into the hearts of anyone. For as devoid as the Raps bench is of quality talent they actually match-up quite well against the Pistons. In fact if Good Joey makes an appearance believe it or not I give the Raps a slight edge here.

The Raps can win this game...it they care to.

HOWLAND