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3 in the Key - Game-Day Preview vs Thunder

Matching their mark at this point in the season last year, things don't get any easier as they take on Oklahoma City.  Vicious D looks at tonight's challenge against one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA.

Tonight is going to be pretty fun for us at the HQ. 

With our MGD Guys Night Out Contest concluding and Franchise and myself scheduled to meet up with the winners, there's a lot to do.

And that's not even counting the actual game itself.

So it's been a while since I've had to write anything thanks to our intern contest, but a lot's happened.  For one, Reggie Evans is hurt bad and to me, this is possibly the worst possible injury the Raptors could possibly sustain.  As a guy who communicated all the time on defense, showed the smarts to show in passing lanes and driving lanes, and of course, was a monster rebounder, he simply can't be replaced.

Heck, with the injury happening in Boston, I'll even say that this whole situation is Garbo-esque.

Ed Davis and Joey Dorsey, though, are going to do their darnedest to fill that spot and in their pairings the other day, both did an admirable job.  Granted it was against Washington, but for these two young studs, it's a chance to gain experience and from what we saw the other day, Ed Davis has at least tried to keep up with everything that he's missed due to his injury.

I mean, he just slid right in like he was there all along.

Finally, there's this whole business with Rogers taking over MLSE. 

Of which I can say...  Nothing.

Unfortunately, in this case, I'm employed by the big telecommunications giant and well, I like my job. 

Although I won't complain about discounted seats if the sale goes through.

Tonight's match up though, is quite a monster of a task.  Even with Kevin Durant's status currently unknown to play tonight, Russell Westbrook has been an absolute monster for the Thunder.  Whether it's clutch performances against seasoned veteran teams like the Celtics, or being the consistent engine that drives the team through a triple overtime win in New Jersey, Westbrook has done it all.  For the Raptors to come out with a W, they're going to need all hands on deck.  Here are the keys:

1) A Battle of Energy - In years past, the Thunder have come in and trampled the Raptors thanks to athleticism, speed, and youth.  The Raptors are now structured to take on teams like the Thunder and compete with them. 

With Sonny Weems and DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors should be able to defend people like Jeff Green or Thabo Sefolosha.  And while Westbrook may be a huge thorn in the Raptors all evening, I wouldn't be surprised if Jay Triano tried out a little more Jerryd Bayless on Westbrook since he's been the quicker of the two point guards. 

The important thing for the Raptors is that this year, they at least have options.

2) Establish Bargnani Inside - While the Raptors did a lot of good the other night, there were a couple points that needed to be tightened up.  For one, getting Andrea Bargnani the ball deep in the post often and early really got him on track.  The Raptors and Bargnani himself went away from this as the game progressed, and he couldn't get going in the second half anymore. 

Against Nenad Krstic, the Raptors have to keep going to this well throughout the game.  There's little doubt in my mind that Andrea Bargnani can impose his will on Kristic and they'll have to do it often to soften up the Thunder interior. 

Besides, with the Thunder scoring around 103 points per game, the Raptors need to get as many easy baskets as they can.  Otherwise they're going to have to really lean on my last point.

3) Consistent Defense - As the game wore on against Washington the other night, you could feel the Raptors getting sloppier on the offensive end with their cross-court passing.  Those passes would be intercepted and slammed home by the Wizards.  However, in my mind, the problems started defensively.  Against the Wizards, the Raptors were posting up monster numbers, shooting 70% going into half time.  And yet, Washington scored 52 of their own points.  This was with both Gilbert Arenas and John Wall having terrible shooting nights. 

I certainly don't think the Raptors will shoot 70% from the field again tonight.

So while I can agree that the Raptors probably didn't care as much about the defense as long as they were scoring, I certainly didn't like the Raptors' attitude.  Defense has to come from habits and it's not something that you can just "turn on".  Jay Triano knows it because in the second half, he kept going after his players to play tougher defense.   Tonight, the Raptors will definitely need to put up a united front to keep the Thunder at bay. 

Most importantly to me, they have to prove that they can play consistent defense with both units now that Reggie Evans is out.

The hard part about losing Reggie Evans and integrating Ed Davis was always going to be there. No matter how talented Ed Davis appears to be, Evans's shoes are just a monster size to fill.  It also threw off the rotation and the chemistry that the Raptors were building.  However, there's just no use crying of spilt milk and so, it's up to the Raptors to re-establish the rhythm they had during their win streak.  I'm going to be giving the Raptors some more slack because of this "adjustment period". 

Games like that abysmal Atlanta Hawks game may occur again, but it's simply up to the Raptors to bounce back and keep plugging away at being the "aggressive and hungry fighter" mentality that Jay Triano wants this team to be. 

It's gotta start defensively.

And it's gotta start tonight.