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3 In The Key: Toronto Raptors Game Day Preview vs. New Jersey Nets

With a blink of an eye the Toronto Raptors are in a tail spin having two in a row and six of their last seven.

In the middle of a four game home stretch the Raps need to get back on track with a win tonight against the lowly New Jersey Nets

Things are not all that pretty in Raptorland right now.

Despite some solid individual performances from some young up and coming players like Jerryd Bayless, Amir Johnson and even Joey Dorsey, the Raptors as a team are in a major slump.

Other than the miracle comeback against the Pistons last week, the Raptors have not done a lot of winning lately - the last victory coming in a Sunday match-up against a Thunder team without Kevin Durant.

It's not like the competition has been that stiff either. Teams like Charlotte, Indiana and to a lesser degree the New York Knicks, are not exactly the league's elite.

The Raps need a W and they need a W now.

Enter the worst team in the Atlantic Division - the New Jersey Nets.

New Jersey is a team that mystifies me. In a summer where they had lots of cap space and a new multi-millionaire owner they spent their money on the likes of Travis Outlaw, Anthony Morrow and then acquired Troy Murphy. Good players in their own right but not guys you build around. They then hired Avery Johnson who appears to have made a bad situation worse. Johnson struggled to get along with last year's number one pick and RHQ favorite Terrence Williams (since shipped to Houston) and seems hell-bent on playing journeyman Kris Humpheries over this years number 1 pick Derrick Favors. Meanwhile the rumour is they are willing to give up the farm if they can get Carmelo Anthony to sign an extension. Coach Johnson and Carmelo - a match made in heaven? I have my doubts.

The Raps of course have their own issues. Much like the Nets they are still trying to find their identity and both teams are stuggling with injury woes. When two struggling teams meet up it can make for a good game or a total car crash in terms of basketball viewing.  Here's hoping for the former.

To learn move about the Nets situation we reached our to NetsDaily for our first 2010-2011 Blogging With The Enemy:

RHQ: Give us your thoughts on all that has gone on in the past 6-8 months with the Nets - in particular how they spent their free-agent dollars and the kind of team they are building.

Three months ago, I would have answered that the Nets were a team on the rise, with a new gazillionaire owner clearly dedicated to building a winner; a well-respected head coach; a super-athletic rookie PF; a young player that, statistically, was probably the best rookie in the East over the last quarter of the season; and a series of shrewd free-agent signings designed to take advantage of the strengths of the team's two best players, Devin Harris and Brook Lopez. Now everything is in disarray.

Terrence Williams somehow wore out his welcome and was shipped off to Houston for, well, whatever they could extract. The free agents have been horrible. Troy Murphy, who they acquired in a pre-season deal and was expected to play a major role, isn't even allowed to play. Brook Lopez looks lost. Right now, there seems to be a lot of bad karma floating around this franchise. Last year, we all knew that the team had no interest in trying to win games, and while the results were disappointing, they were hardly a surprise. This season is worse, because there was reason for optimism.

RHQ: What are your thoughts on the Melo rumours? If you were the GM would you pull the trigger on the rumoured deal (Favors, 2 first rounders etc.)?

Get a half-dozen Nets fans in a room together, and you'll get seven different opinions on this one. Personally, I come out fairly strongly against making this deal. If the Nets are ever going to become legitimate title contenders, it'll be on the backs of Favors and Brook Lopez, who appear suited to compliment each other magnificently. Favors is an amazing talent, and this is a team that has had a complete inability to fill the PF position since K-Mart was sold for a few draft picks roughly five years ago.

Carmelo is a great player, but as I see it, there's no reason to believe that he will drastically improve the team. After all, the non-Carmelo portion of the Nuggets is significantly better than the Nets, and no one considers Denver to be a title threat. As for the theory that he will attract other superstars in free agency: If the best the Nets could do when they had Jason Kidd was signing the likes of Scott Padgett and Lamond Murray, I doubt Carmelo will come in and be the Pied Piper, if you catch me.

RHQ:What are the key's to the game if the Nets are going to pull one out against the Raps?

More than anything else, the Nets will need strong production from the wings. The general strategy against the Nets right now is the same as it was last year: pack the paint, double Brook Lopez in the post, and dare them to beat you with the outside shot. With Anthony Morrow and rookie Damion James injured--and Terrence Williams in Houston--the Nets will have to rely heavily on free-agent signings Jordan Farmar and Travis Outlaw, both of whom are shooting under 40% for the season. Let me mention, too, that Lopez is having a terrible season; he seems to have lost much of his aggressiveness and his offensive game actually degrades the closer he gets to the hoop. He needs to reverse that.

Thanks to "Dumpy" for these great answers.

If the Raps don't win this one I am not sure where the next W is going to come from. Just look at the schedule ahead:


Pistons (you know they will want to avenge that loss)




That takes you to the end of December. There isn't a easy win there and the last three games are on the road where the Raps struggle mightily going 3-10. If you want the Raps to increase their chances at a high pick you look at this schedule favourably. If you are looking to see a young team to take a step forward you are not feeling too good about things right now.

That makes tonight's game an important one. The Raps need to get the W, despite injuries, to help build even the slightest confidence. If they lose this game the rest of 2010 could be ugly.

So what are the keys to tonights game?

1. Get on the Glass: The Raps must do a better jon rebounding the basketball then they did against the Bulls. In what could be an ugly game, second chance points are going to be a key part in determining who comes away with the W. The Raps will need to focus on keeping Brook Lopez off the glass and that job will fall squarely on the shoulders of Amir Johnson. Here's hoping he can "rebound" from an off-night against the Bulls.

2. Production From the Wings: A lot of talk after the last game about the disappointing production from the Raptors wing-men as of late. I don't see much, if any, reason why DeMar and Sonny can't have a solid game tonight. The Nets will be on the second half of a back-to-back and their wings are no more talented.

3. Close Out: The Raps don't solely have to focus their attention on defending Lopez - they also need to do a solid job defending the 3-ball. Guys are going to need to go over screens and ensure there is a hand in the face of players like the aforementioned Travis Outlaw and newly acquire Sasha Vujacic. If there is one thing the Nets roster has lots of it's three point shooters.