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3 In the Key - Raptors Game Day Preview vs. Lakers

Having lost their first two games on this West Coast swing the Raps now face the daunting task of trying to win at the Staples Center against the defending World Champions.

Could make for a long night.

I won't lie - there are going to be times when it will be a major struggle to watch the 2010-2011 Toronto Raptors, in particular on those night's when the opponent is far and away a superior team.

With that, cue the undefeated Lakers.

At first glance you would have to think Raps are going to lose this game and there is a good chance it will be a blow-out. The spread in Vegas for this game? -13.5.

Throughout training camp we heard about how the Raps would have to consistently out work their opponents to have an opportunity to win games. Well there is no question the Raps are going to have to play all-out tonight to even be in the game. If there were able to steal the W it would be a major coup. Another up and down performance as witnessed in Utah will not be sufficient.

Fortunately in recent memory (leaving aside the "81" - you can watch every one of those points here and here) the Raps have played the Lakers tough. Last season the teams split their match-ups and one of them ended with Hedo Turkoglu hitting two last second free-throws to win it. Dare I say that was his highlight as a Raptor?

Of course the biggest difference between this season and last season is that the Lakers might actually be better and deeper while the Raps have taken a step back. The talent gap between these two teams has actually widened.

So why play the game? Well, it's going to be a true test of character for this group of guys.

There are going to be games this season when the Raptors get absolutely run out of the gym. This has all the makings of that sort of game. The question is, how the Raptors will react when facing adversity? Will they shy away  when stuck 20 or will they scratch and claw back? The Utah game tells us it is the latter, but as the season wears on and the losses mount will they still have the same fight? Does this team have a Mike James never say die attitude?

The Raptors are a team starting the season with many questions and little by way of answers. The Lakers on the other hand are a well oiled machine. The have added some nice new secondary parts (see Matt Barnes and Steve Blake) and their core guys, in particular Lamar Odom, are playing at an extremely high level. The Lakers franchise has become the Gold Star standard for every other team in the L.

So - what do the Raps need to do in order to shock the world?

1. Come to Play: This would be an easy game for the Raps to get down by 10-15 and then just fold-up tent and think about the next game but I don't like their chances against the Blazers tomorrow night much more. If the Lakers lay off a little early the Raps need to take advantage and everyone needs to step it up. Someone else has to shoulder the scoring load outside of Bargnani and it would be great to see both Calderon and Jack have a good game on the same night. I would argue that this is a game where Triano needs to shorten the bench and go with the guys who show right out of the gates they won't back down just because the Lakers are "supposed" to walk all over them.  

2. Play all 48 minutes: The effort has to be there from opening tip until the final buzzer. There can be no lapses in effort or plays taken off. No-one can pull a Randy Moss. The team needs to start each quarter like a house on fire and end each quarter in the same manner. You can't expect a basket each time down the floor just like you can't expect to hold the Lakers to 80 points, but we have all watched enough basketball to know when a team is focused and dialed in.

3. Sweat the Small Stuff: This is definitely a game where any additional possessions will go a long way in terms of success. Offensive rebounds, getting loose balls, turn-overs, deflections and charges become all the more important in this sort of match-up. The Raps need to fight for their breaks and take advantage when things do go their way.

Plain and simple the Raps need to outwork their opponent. They have talked lots about it but tonight will be a test of whether they have indeed bought into that mantra.