Last night the 2010-11 NBA season kicked off with much fanfare as the new "Super Friends" in Miami played their first game, Yao Ming returned to action, and the Lakers receiving their championship rings.
Tonight, things begin for real for the Toronto Raptors with much less fanfare and many less expectations.
They're expected to be a basement dweller by most, a team with middling talent that fails to win 30 games and while yesterday I tried to err on the optimistic side, the news last night that Leandro Barbosa, one of the teams top performers early on, will require wrist surgery at some point in the near future, doesn't bode well for us optimists.
That being said, the Raps have a great chance to get off on the right foot in their first two games of the season.
Toronto takes on New York in a sort of re-match of the teams' final pre-season game a week ago in Montreal, one that the Raptors walked away from victorious. Then on Friday, they take on a LeBron-less Cavs squad at home.
I commented after the final pre-season game that I thought the "experts" were overrating the Knicks and I'm hoping the Dinos go out tonight and make me look good.
Here are our 3 keys on how to get the job done:
1) Hit the glass - We saw this as a big key throughout pre-season in fact. When Reggie Evans was pulling 12 or so boards down a game, an ensuring the ball was moving on offence instead of looking for his own offence, then the team looked pretty solid all things considered. The Knicks aren't a great rebounding team by any stretch of the imagination so if Toronto can dominate this area, it should provide for a big advantage this evening.
2) Forget Amare - There's no question Stoudemire is a bit of a man amongst boys down low on most nights, and tonight is probably no exception. However I'm fine with Amar'e racking up 40 points as long as he's not getting other Knicks involved. Players like Gallinari and rookie Landry Fields can stroke it from downtown and what I don't want to see tonight is a situation where Amar'e is drawing so much attention that the rest of the Knicks have open looks all evening around the perimeter. Yes, try and keep Amar'e's damage to a minimum, but let's see that swarming perimeter D as well to prevent easy looks, something Mike Dantoni's teams thrive on.
3) Starters playing like starters! - The most common theme fans saw in pre-season unfortunately was one where the Raps' first group of five got down by a significant amount on the scoreboard and the second unit would have to pull them back into the game. This can't happen all season if Toronto wants to escape Nets' levels of losing so I'm looking for a good start tonight. The re-insertion of Jarrett Jack into the starting line-up was supposed to help with this, but the onus is on all five starters, especially guys like Kleiza and Bargnani, to have immediate impacts once the ball goes up. New York's bench is definitely not great, so perhaps this is a game Toronto can afford to lag a bit behind starter-wise but I'd rather not see the team get in the habit. Let's get a solid effort at both ends right from the jump.
Raptors' basketball is back folks...enjoy the season...