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3 In The Key - Toronto Raptors Game Day Preview vs. Dallas

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Against Chris Bosh's hometown heroes, the Raptors will be facing a Dallas team that has remained top in the Southwest division.  Vicious D takes a look at the Raptors and how they just may be able to defeat a team that has been one of their toughest challenges.

So here we are, a good two weeks into 2010, and nobody still knows what to do with this team.

Is this a team that seems to be able to put it all together and has learned to play some passable defense to pull out some wins?  Or are we still looking at a team that will continue to perform with large weaknesses and therefore has some major flaws that need to be addressed?

Exploring these questions will continue as we near the trade deadline and will go towards determining whether Bryan Colangelo will be extremely active in the next few weeks.  As much as the Raptors wish to remain status quo for now and show their team solidarity, the product on the court has shown that it is far from being a cohesive unit.  

While Hedo Turkoglu had one good game against the Knicks the other night, his overall demeanor has been pretty mixed.  Loyalists to the vision will point out that Turkoglu isn't that far off from his pace a year or two ago, but the Raptors have also upped his salary with the intention that Turkoglu would elevate his game to another level.  Toss in the recent publicity stunt and Turk's other comments about the coaching scheme and he is the one Raptor that many have begun calling for a move.

Of course, we know his contract will be a big albatross against any moves.

And with the team nearly maxed out in salaries, there seems to be preciously little room for Colangelo to make his deals.  It's probably why we've started to hear reporters such as Michael Grange explore the possibilities of going over the luxury tax

However, if I'm MLSE, I'd be extremely weary about putting any more money into a team that has already locked in four of its five starting positions while still displaying a general issue on the defensive side of the court.  To me, the addition of one more "key piece" will not be enough to push this group forward into the next level. 

And perhaps, that's the most frustrating thing for me as a fan right now.

On the other hand, if you're the Dallas Mavericks, things are pretty rosy. 

The Mavericks roll into the ACC the top of their division, above the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets.  A lot of credit can be given to the fact that the team has toughness and balance from the starters down to the bench; something that the Raptors are still desperately searching for.  It's why this game is another good possible character-building game for our Raptors.  If they hope to win, they'll have to take care of these three points:

1) Unexpected rebounding
The Mavericks are a team that has prided itself on a balanced attack that is based on toughness. One chief reason for this toughness?  Guys like Shawn Marion, Drew Gooden, and Jason Kidd all have over 200 rebounds for the season to help out Dirk Nowitzki and Erik Dampier.  In comparison, only Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani have over 200 rebounds this season.  To win, the Raptors must get more production out of players such as Amir Johnson, Hedo Turkoglu, and DeMar DeRozan.  Otherwise, the Raptors will just have to rely on hot shooting to see them through; something that we at the HQ have been dreading the past couple of games.

2) Don't rely on luck.
Lately, you get the feeling that when the Raptors shots stop falling, the players all give a collective sigh of defeat and shrug their shoulders.  It's like you can almost hear guys like Turkoglu say "Ah well, we just keep shooting, and they'll start going in eventually."  Fans know that this is no way to be consistent when winning ball games.  Coaches should know it too.  Yet, we still see those same players on the floor for extended periods of time  without repercussion.  Heck, when it all happens, I feel like grabbing my new TV and shaking it to get someone to change the culture on the floor. 

Someone has to take charge.  I'm almost begging the players and coaches at this point.

3) Point Guard defense
It's not all on Jose Calderon.  It's not all on Jarrett Jack.   But both players are going to have to come out a little stronger because the Dallas point guards are just simple exceptional.  Dirk Nowitzki just may have Andrea Bargnani's number, but guys like Jason Kidd and J.J. Barea cannot be allowed to just roam through the Raptor lanes.  The Raptor bigs will have enough issues with the Mav bigs, but if the Raptors allow Barea and Kidd to do what they want at will, the Raptors will be calling it a day early.