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

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Raptors' fans are suddenly tossing around monetary amounts like draft pick names...

Raptors' fans are suddenly tossing around monetary amounts like draft pick names...


It's a drag.

At least that's what Pink Floyd taught me in my youth. But over the course of the next two months, Raptors fans are probably going to hear more about the salary cap and finances than they'd care to. In uncertain times when both cap and tax levels are predicted to go down, the league will soon be shifting in its approach to the excessive salaries being handed out to marginal players. And while we at the HQ have been discussing this issue for months, we're only starting to see the effects of some of the dead weight on the Raptors' roster.

After all, having $10 million tied into Jason Kapono and Marcus Banks makes it that much more difficult to give Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani proper salaries in the next few years.

It's why we're starting to have serious discussions about the financial viability of the Raptors for the foreseeable future.

Sorta feels like 2003-2006 all over again.

The amazing thing for me has been the reaction of the players. In yesterday's From Deep, the Globe and Mail's Michael Grange talked about discussing the salary cap situation with Shawn Marion. Perhaps offending Marion a little, Grange suggested that Marion may have to settle for a mere mid-level exception in his next negotiation - well under his current $17 million.

I'd be shocked too if someone suddenly suggested that I take a pay cut of about 65%.

But that's the harsh reality facing the NBA players in this upcoming summer.

It's why it's doubly important that Bryan Colangelo be aggressive yet fiscally responsible. I'm sure he'll be able to find a few bargains this summer such as Marion, but it's also important not to overpay guys like Pops Mensah-Bonsu or Anthony Parker, should we re-sign them. Don't worry, we'll be tossing our own two cents as the season comes to a conclusion. For now though, let's put all that aside and take a look at tonight's match up against the Orlando Magic.

Toronto is riding a fairly useless four-game winning streak, but thanks to the incompetence of the clubs in front of them, actually GAINED ground in their mythical playoff race last night!

Hands up to all who can't wait to see Toronto finish a game or two out when all is said and done??!

On to the keys...

1) Bargnani vs Howard -

By now, we've seen Bargnani mature before our eyes into a fairly decent defender. In the post, he's able to cut off drives to the basket and make life difficult for the opposing guards. Tonight, he'll have little time for that, as he'll be consuming all his fouls and energy towards slowing down the runner-up in this year's slam dunk contest. Dwight Howard almost hit another 20-20 Monday night against the Heat and with only one day's rest, the Raptors need to throw everything and the kitchen sink against Howard. For Bargnani, it's yet another look at how our starting center is learning the most difficult part of his game; quickness with his legs to cut off opponents and power to push out brick-houses like Howard. If Bargnani is able to draw a few fouls on Howard, it should make life much easier for the Raptors.

2) Perimeter D -

Orlando has the 4th highest shooting percentage from beyond the arc. I've harped about it in previous previews against the Magic, but the Raptors simply cannot allow the Magic to sit on the perimeter and bomb. With lengthier players like Marion and Mensah-Bonsu now in tow, it should be easier for the Raptors to close out on the perimeter as long as they don't need to help out too much in the paint. Therefore, the Raptors have to protect the paint in order to continue to play effective perimeter D.

Except for maybe Rafer Alston. I just might want the Raptors to leave him open and let him toss them up.

3) Score -

Let's face it. This year, the Raptors have needed to score and score a lot because their defense has been shoddy at best. We'll delve into just why the Raptors' defense is so atrocious after the end of the season, but for now, the Raptors have to keep on scoring. 100 points has to be the mandate for this team because it means that they're moving the ball and getting into a flow. I'd also like to say that this might be doubly hard against the Magic because we shouldn't expect the Raptors to jump out to any kind of sizable lead unlike their previous four wins. The Raptors will need to score with the added pressure of playing a team that can make it close at any moment and for me, it's an important step in continuing to evaluate this club.

It's a bit ironic that we're seeing the Orlando Magic at this point in time. A few years ago, we used to talk about how Dwight Howard was still too raw to carry a team and that the Magic were far from being an elite team in the NBA. A new coach with a philosophy, some deft moves, and the maturation of a dominant player and the Magic are now amongst the elite in the East year after year. As a Raptor fan, I can't help but think about some of the bad breaks in the past couple of years that have seen our franchise fall to the bottom of the pile.

One wonders how long the road will be back to the top?

Vicious D