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3 In The Key - Toronto Raptors Game Day Preview vs. Philadelphia

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The Raptors face their Atlantic Division rivals and look towards closing off for the All Star game.  With Franchise out sick, Vicious D steps in for an emergency take on the 76ers.

You'll hear it a lot from the news outlets that the Raptors have to and want to close out their last game before the All-Star Break on a strong note.

Problem is, everyone else has got the same idea.

However, there will be an added boost hopefully with a return of the bald bruiser, Reggie Evans, to the lineup.  Here's hoping that one day, we'll be able to shower him with Skittles and Jolly Ranchers, but the 76ers are riding a five game winning streak and the Raptors will be hosting the 76ers at home, trying to extend their own streak at the same time.  I'm personally expecting this game to be a back-and-forth affair as the two teams are trying to secure their own place in the conference standings.

This could be a pretty messy game and degenerate into a lot of fast break dunks in a hurry.

That's why the Raptors will need to pay some extra attention to their defense.  For the past few games, the Raptors have more or less cruised through three quarters before turning up the defense to close out their games.  It may be acceptable play against the Nets or Kings, but against the 76ers, the Raptors will face a more focused and confident opponent.

It's why this game won't be easy and the Raptors have to be careful about the details such as:

1) Front court presence
With Elton Brand scoring 21 points the other night, the Raptors will be looking at a front court tandem of Brand and Samuel Dalembert playing some solid ball, both Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani will have it in tough.  You're looking at a tandem that can pull defenders out with some streaky shooting and yet still stay inside and grab a strong rebound when needed.  Against the two of them, Raptors will need to play both of them smart.  Bargnani in particular, will need to use all of his strength to keep Sammy D at bay, while Bosh will need to play Brand tight so that he isn't shooting from a stand-still position. Today's game is a game where I hope Bargs will not mind sacrificing his offense for defense. 

2) Run with the smalls
If the bigs have the potential to create havoc against the Raptors, Lou Williams has been an absolute wrecking ball.  Chewing up both Jose Caleron and Jarrett Jack, Williams exposed how weak the Raptors point tandem was against small, fast point guards.  If both Jack and Calderon fail to contain Williams, it will shift the defense as other players will have to hedge and double team.  With the Raptors' defensive woes under the best of situations, containing the Sixers at the point will be a sticking point in a Raptors win.

3) Play with emotion
Reggie Evans is back.  The Raptors are riding a home win streak in front of one of the better crowds of the NBA.  Chris Bosh has been playing some of the best ball of his career.  There are plenty of reasons to be excited about your Toronto Raptors and what they can do after the break, but this is a game that looks to have some run and gun action and the Raptors always play better when the ACC crowd is behind them.  With Evans looking to energize at every opportunity, Triano should not be unafraid to bring Evans back in for a spell in the second half if the Raptors are looking lethargic.