The Toronto Raptors kick off a tough road trip tonight in Memphis with a match against the Grizz...
Christmas may have come a bit late for some Raptors' fans.
Toronto takes on the Memphis Grizzlies tonight in the first of three tough road games, all minus one Andrea Bargnani. Early reports were that Bargs did not make the trip to Memphis, and therefore will not play against Dallas or Houston either, Toronto's next two matches on this trip.
There's a couple ways to look at this.
First, if you're in the camp that thinks this team should be trying their damndest to secure a top 3 spot in the upcoming NBA draft lottery, this bodes well.
Second, if you're in the camp that thinks that Bargnani doesn't add much value to the club, this next stretch will then be a pretty good test of your convictions.
And finally, if you still believe this Raptors' team can make a run at the final playoff seed in the East (the Raps are essentially only 3 games out as of this morning), both Memphis and Houston are teams the Dinos can beat, with or without Bargnani. And considering the team plays Boston twice and Chicago once in the following four contests, a few good road wins would go a long way towards keeping that playoff ship on course.
Up first therefore, the Grizz, and here are our 3 keys to a Toronto victory in the latest installment of the Naismith Cup:
1. Wing play. The Raptors may not have Andrea Bargnani at their disposal but have no fear...Ronald Dupree is back! Yes, for some bizarre reason, Bryan Colangelo decided that the team needs yet another bench-worthy 2/3, signing him yesterday for an undisclosed period of time. Grizzlies scouts have been seen in the confines of the Air Canada Center recently, so the only thing that makes any sense to me is a possible trade where Dupree is needed for wing depth because the Raps have dealt one or more of their own. Could Hasheem Thabeet be on the way? OJ Mayo? This is all speculation of course but unless Colangelo is doing a favour for Dupree's agent, Mark Bartelstein, I don't see why this move was made. As it is, Julian Wright doesn't get enough playing time.
Regardless, this is an area Toronto needs to dominate tonight. The team is going to have its hands full down low (more on this in a second) so players like DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems, assuming he plays, need to take advantage. I'll add Linas Kleiza into the mix here too as he's played a good chunk of time at the 3 lately, and has actually played quite well.
For me though this one's about DeRozan, who will be matched up against another USC alum in Mayo. We're closing in on the halfway point of the NBA season and considering most wings who get the playing time DeMar has gotten really start to take that step in year 2 at the latest, fans and management need to start seeing some major progress. (Thanks to RaptorsAddict for some astute points on this last night at a Christmas party!)
2. Gasol and Randolph. Over the course of his career against the Toronto Raptors, Marc Gasol has shot almost 60% from the field. Last year Randolph in two games versus the Dinos had 60 points and 32 rebounds.
With no Bargnani or Evans already, and now a chance that Amir Johnson might not play thanks to his persistent back issues (not to mention stitches over eye thanks to an Alabi elbow in practice), this could be a long night down low for Toronto. The entire team needs to do a job in the paint to try and contain this duo who have given the Raps a ton of trouble in the past.
Should Amir play, he's going to have to try and refrain from over-exuberance on D because his club won't be able to afford the foul trouble. I'm guessing we'll see lots of Ed Davis in any event, some Joey Dorsey and hey, maybe fans will be treated to an epic Hasheem Thabeet - Soloman Alabi battle!
We talked about this in one of the recent game threads but Triano may want to look to go small in situations like this, with Wright manning the 4, and maybe even Kleiza as a Bargnani type stretch-5...
3. Too much turkey. We could get into some metrics here about Toronto's defensive woes, Memphis' offensive inconsistencies etc. But this is a classic "first game back" scenario where really, I think the team that comes out with the most jump gets the win.
Simple as that.
If you watched the Lakers get crushed by the Bucks prior to Christmas, you saw a good example of the other side of the coin; a team looking past its opponent to the holiday break and the big Christmas Day game against the Miami Heat. Tonight I'm hoping that after a nice, albeit quick, break, Toronto is the team that comes out with a vengeance, catching Memphis still dreaming of turkey and stuffing.
However the Grizz have lost three in a row themselves so no doubt will be looking to come out strong in hopes of the W.