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3 in the Key - Raptors' Game-Day Preview vs. the Knicks

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The Raptors need to slow down the suddenly formidable combo of Felton and Stoudemire...
The Raptors need to slow down the suddenly formidable combo of Felton and Stoudemire...


The HQ breaks down what's suddenly a key Sunday afternoon match between the Raptors and the Knicks...

A crucial Toronto Raptors vs New York Knicks match?  

What year is this, 2001?

Where's my flux capacitor?

As I noted yesterday, the Raps are currently banging on the playoff door and to further climb another run in that long regular season ladder on the way there, two games against the New York Knicks, who currently reside two playoff spots above them, loom.

Yep, it's December, and one could argue premature to talk playoffs but I'd have to disagree.

Why?

Well looking back at last season, Toronto's playoff fate came down to the final couple of games of the regular season, something that needn't have happened had they I don't know, not blown a few big leads last year like they did to teams like Charlotte and Indiana.

(Remember the latter?  Raps up by about 80 points only to lose?  Ugh...I can still see Danny Granger draining 4th quarter 3's while Hedo ran around helplessly...)

Point being, you need'em all, so TO's next 3 (NYC, Indiana and NYC again) represent good chances to get to the NBA's second season when all is said and done.

Here are our 3 keys on this Sunday to taking down the Knicks:

1)  Take the Knicks out of their offence.  One of the reason New York has surged ahead recently?  Their offense.  At present, the Knicks have the 7th best mark in the league in terms of offensive efficiency.  The biggest change? Realizing that Raymond Felton is no Steve Nash, Mike D'Antoni recently restructured his offence to ensure easier looks for Amar'e Stoudemire and the results can be seen in the box score lately, particularly regarding Mr. Stoudemire.  Jay Triano's Raps have to get the ball out of Felton's hands and force him to be a shooter as much as possible.  They also need to push Amar'e out of his comfort areas, something that will fall into the lap of Amir Johnson and Andrea Bargnani.  The Knicks are shooting 57% in terms of true shooting percentage, fourth best in the league, and a big piece of this is the easy looks Amare's getting inside.  

2)  Slow things down.  The Raps have been one of the best teams in the league at playing the up-tempo game this season.  But the Knicks have been even better.  Once D'Antoni sped up the pace and got more minutes for players more prone to this style, the team really started to take off.  New York now plays at the 3rd fastest pace in the league and as evidenced in their recent win over the New Orleans Hornets, they can be a handful to contend with if you're trying to chase them all night, leaving gunners like Danilo Gallinari and Landry Fields open.  I'm not saying the Raps need to walk things up, but they need to play their style, and not get caught up in a game of chase.  A lot of this revolves around Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless, but also on bigs like Bargnani, Johnson and even Kleiza establishing themselves in the post to ensure the Knicks have to defend in the half-court.

3)  Attack the paint.  While everything's looked Rosy for D'Antoni and the Knicks on O, on D, it's been a different story. And in terms of rebounding, an even more different one, an ugly one.  Currently the Knicks have one of the worst rebounding rates in the league while the Raptors?  They're second best.

To me this is the biggest point in this game.  Both teams can score and get up and down.  Both rely on a dynamic big man for the bulk of their buckets.  But Toronto has a force of big men who can rebound and attack inside, and wings like DeMar DeRozan and Sonny Weems who are more than capable of having an impact in that area as well. The Knicks have Amar'e and...Timofey Mozgov?  Ronny Turiaf has not played the past few games thanks to a knee injury and without him, there's very little in terms of size for NYC.  Toronto absolutely has to own the paint this afternoon and if they do, I'm confident the Knicks will have a very tough time walking away with the W.