After a tough loss in Sacto, the Raptors are back at it tonight in Utah against the Jazz...
Can Toronto through November with more than 3 wins?
That's the question many have been floating around cyberspace after a tough start to the season that's season the Dinos drop 2 of 3 winnable games.
Fans know that the next stretch ain't exactly peaches and cream, starting with tonight's match against the Utah Jazz, but beyond that, teams like Boston (twice), Atlanta, Miami and Orlando fill up the Raps' first full month on this NBA calendar.
In fact, the "3 keys" that we roll out here could ostensibly be used for an entire month, because many of the issues that permeated Monday night's collapse are ones that the team will likely have to contend with over the next few weeks, if not all season.
For now though, we'll focus on the match-up at hand, a toughie no doubt as even though the Jazz have been somewhat disappointing so far this season, they are still a formidable foe; one that comes ready to play each night and has traditionally given Toronto a ton of trouble.
1) A balanced attack: This is the real biggie for me and something I touched on post-game yesterday. The second unit aside from Calderon's offence was essentially invisible Monday night, and for this team to win, they need a much more complete game from everyone who sees court time. Therefore tonight I'll be hoping to see Weems spend more time attacking than shooting jumpers, Johnson getting on the glass and using his energy to change the pace of the game, Barbosa to...well...hit some shots frankly, and Andersen to do a nice job warming the pine. Joking, but I'd like to see Joey Dorsey get some minutes and these should come at Andersen's expense, not Amir's unless he's fouled out.
The other part of the balance is with the starters themselves.
I talked yesterday at length about the "one-dimensionality" of Mr. Evans and Mr. Bargnani and for Toronto to win, these two need to be a little more complete. I'm not talking about Reggie suddenly making like Kevin Durant and dominating the offence, I'm talking about him realizing that he simply isn't ABLE to be an offensive force, and to refrain from shooting in the first place.
Yeah, that whole "minimize your liabilities" thing.
Again, I thought Evans did a great job of that in the first quarter, but got a bit shot-happy as the game went on.
For Andrea, he simply needs to do a better job on the glass. The evidence was there for all to see in the fourth Q thanks to DeMarcus Cousins, and considering he'll be contending with similar brutes in Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap tonight, the team can't have a repeat performance.
2) Pace: Utah runs about as deliberate an offense as there is out there and will grind you down over the course of the game. In the past, we've seen Toronto manage to keep things close after a quarter or two, but by the end of the match, it's blowout central.
Therefore tonight the Raps need to do two things in my book; they need to try and disrupt Utah's flow on offence, and they themselves need to try and enforce their style on the match.
I'm pretty sure Jerry Sloan does not want to get into a "chase Weems and DeRozan up and down the court all night" scenario so it's integral that the Raps try and get out in transition.
This starts at the defensive end where the perimeter needs to be tighter (broken record I know), and everyone needs to take on the Reggie Evans approach to rebounding.
As for the disrupting, guys like Weems and Barbosa have the tools to get the job done, and like we saw in pre-season at times, there needs to be a concerted effort on this front tonight.
3) Mental stamina: The first three games were good tests for this team in terms of beating lesser opponents. The club didn't pass, but they did show that if they improve in a few key areas, they've got a shot each night against foes like this.
Tonight though it's a different story for two reasons.
Second, Toronto may still have the last game on their minds when they take the court tonight in Salt Lake City.
So this game should be a good early season test of the young team's resolve.
The Raps need to come out and make a statement early, similar to what they did against Sacramento, and show that they can put tough losses like Monday night's behind them.
If not, this one could get pretty ugly, pretty early.