There was little doubt in my mind that the Cavaliers would be "up" for this game.
Nevertheless, the Raptors brought a little something-something to the game as well. If you were going to create a checklist of things Toronto would need to do to win, the Raptors did many of them. They manufactured turnovers (14), they got the usual production from Bosh and Bargnani, and got some extra production from their bench. Specifically, Antoine Wright and Marco Belinelli contributed some major scoring especially in the absence of Sonny Weems and in the presence of Hedo Turkoglu.
Ah Hedo Turkoglu. If you were a Raptor fan watching the game last night, you probably were ready to strangle Turkoglu with the $53 Million he was being paid. After picking up two quick fouls, a technical foul for taunting the ref, and subsequent quick fouls whenever he was in the game, the Raptors' largest off season acquisition was a huge non-factor for the game.
Hence the missing piece.
When Turkoglu was brought in as the big signing this summer, Dino fans thought that at the very least, Hedo Turkoglu would provide some offensive power while being a defensive liability. There was no denying his ability to score and pass, but there were also undeniable questions about his rebounding and defensive ability. Halfway through the season, the Raptors seem to be clicking quite well with players like DeMar DeRozan contributing quite regularly. Turk's numbers for January though, are quite abysmal. He has been averaging 10.6 points per game in 35 minutes, (his highest total floor time average so far this season) 35% shooting from the floor combined with 37% shooting from the 3 point line, and 60% shooting from the free throw line. All his percentages are the lowest of the year.
And this is the guy that we've signed under contract for three and a half more seasons with a player option.
Now there were more reasons why the Raptors lost last night's game. The referees showed some heavy bias towards the home team during the second quarter and some questionable rotations came from Jay Triano at key times where he substituted hot players like Andrea Bargnani for cold players like Rasho Nesterovic down the stretch. However, if the Raptors' third highest paid player isn't performing accordingly, they are going to continue to struggle to beat the best teams in the NBA...it's as simple as that.
They may even struggle against lower-middle tier teams such as the Bucks.
On the tail end of their back-to-back, Toronto will face the Milwaukee Bucks and will need to look at minutes carefully. It's here where we start off with the keys to the game:
1) Triano's stopwatch
While most of the players played under 30 minutes, both Bosh and Bargnani logged heavy minutes at 42 and 38 each. The Bucks will be rested thanks to their day off, but the hope is that the Raptors will come out with a win if they use their secondary weapons judiciously. Marco Belinelli has shown that his shooting touch is still around despite his recent flu and hopefully Jose Calderon can bounce back from an off shooting night. However, it's all up to Triano to make ample use of his bench at the first sign that his starters look winded.
2) Make the Bucks look bad
The Bucks have taken a nose-dive since their hot rookie, Brandon Jennings, cooled off considerably. Jerry Stackhouse-or-no-Jerry Stackhouse, the Raps cannot allow this sub-.500 team to get the jump on them. Andrea Bargnani is much more capable than Andrew Bogut and has shown a defensive ability against the true centers of the NBA. Michael Redd is out for the season with a torn ACL and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, as well as Ersan Ilyasova should be no match for Bosh and Turkoglu.
3) Take care of the rock
The Raptors will have to take care of the ball as the Bucks have the best turnover differential in the league. Forcing turnovers may become quite difficult against the Bucks, so Toronto must take care of the ball when they're on the offensive. Chris Bosh in particular, has been fairly bad with the ball lately. As a result, the Raps will also have to rebound the ball consistently or they may find themselves losing on sheer number of possessions alone.