The Raptors have not always fared so well after the All-Star break. Their first test is a Memphis team that has already pulled out a win against our hometown heroes. RHQ looks carefully at what it will take to win tonight's game.
The Raptors have traditionally done well with the game before the All-Star Break and yet have usually struggled in the game succeeding it.
In fact, the Raptors lost to Cleveland last year, beat Orlando the year before, lost to Cleveland the year before that, and lost to Memphis the year before that. Coming back from an extremely strong All-Star performance, the hope is that Chris Bosh will be able to motivate his team to sustain the success they were having pre-break, despite their opponent and the distractions of the looming trade deadline.
Ah, trade deadline day. In the past years, Bryan Colangelo has made some end-of-roster moves to try and improve his Raptors team. Whether it was a move to get Juan Dixon into a Raptors uniform, or just grabbing Primoz Brezec, "the Legomaster" has found subtle ways to make his roster better. This year though, as Franchise mentioned yesterday, there are few pieces that Colangelo may wish to part with. Marcus Banks, with 4 million reasons to be moved, has proven to be a bit of an insurance policy against Jose Calderon's recent injuries, and we've yet to really get any ROI from Reggie Evans. Both may very well be viable pieces that the Raptors will trade to get something of value in return, however, I've never been one to be able to read the tea leaves to figure out what trade winds will blow for the Raps, and how Bryan Colangelo will take advantage of all the movement.
So just like last year, I will be content to wait and see and evaluate the fallout afterwards.
With few people now expecting the Raptors to be major movers, the interest will turn towards Toronto's own Eastern Conference rivals. With the Knicks and Bulls pursuing T-Mac and the Cavs and Heat going after Amare Stoudemire, the attention is now clearly off of Chris Bosh and his impending free agency, and for now, hopefully the focus will simply be on the remainder of the season and the basketball that has yet to be played.
Entering into the ACC are the Memphis Grizzlies, one of the league's suprise teams this year.
They're currently riding a four-game losing streak however are a game over .500 and have had a season that no "expert" could have dreamed of. Memphis will come into the Air Canada Center with the intention of turning over a new leaf thanks to the losses pre-break. On the other hand, the Raps do not want to undo all the good they've done for the past two months.
So to start the "second-half" of the season off on the right foot, here are our keys:
1) Don't get out muscled.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph both terrorized the Raptors' interior the last time these two teams met, which then allowed Rudy Gay to run wild. Therefore both Bosh and Bargnani really need to do a number on the glass and in the paint this evening on D. Bargs in particular needs to bring the grit and fight Marc Gasol the way he fought against the likes of Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, and Shaquille O'Neal. Andrea has to meet Marc early so that he can push the big Spaniard out of the paint. If he puts in a lazy night's work in this area, it will simply not get the job done.
The reality though is that both Randolph and Gasol are built for the "getting dirty in the paint" style while Bargs, and to a lesser extent, Bosh, aren't.
That's why I expect to see lots of Reggie Evans tonight.
This is a perfect game for him to show just why he was acquired last off-season, and I expect Amir Johnson to get some solid run as well. And while Hedo Turkoglu was decidedly more aggressive the last game he played despite having a mask, and the Raptors will need a lot more of that tonight; both helping out in the paint by shoving his face where it isn't wanted, and in terms of keeping Rudy Gay in check.
2) Attack inside early and often.
Coming back from the break, the expectation is that this Raptors team is going to be shooting fairly cold for most of the night. They are going to be out of sync and I'm expecting the basketball to stick as players will try to do too much to get themselves out of any shooting slump that may appear. It's going to therefore come down to players like DeMar DeRozan, Andrea Bargnani, Sonny Weems, and Marco Belinelli to continually attack the basket. I'd also like to call on Hedo Turkoglu, but until I see some more consistency with his drives to the basket, I will hold off on expecting it from our starting small forward. With both teams perhaps suffering from some post-break malaise, this might be one Toronto has to win ugly by simply getting to the free-throw line more often than Memphis.
3) Push Memphis outside.
Two thing really stand out for me about the Grizzlies. First, they are ranked seventh overall in field goal percentage and are sixth overall in points per game scored. Second, they are 27th overall in three point percentage.
If the Raptors have to risk giving away something to the Grizzlies, it is therefore much more preferable to give up the outside shot than to allow the Grizzlies to come inside. Perhaps we see some zone from Jay Triano tonight therefore, forcing Memphis to beat Toronto from the perimeter instead of allowing easy buckets inside by Randolph and co.
The one thing to note however is that the Grizzlies are second overall in offensive rebounds in the entire league, so the Raptors have to be wary of long rebounds, something that teams who employ zone defences struggle with. Guards such as Jarrett Jack and DeMar DeRozan need to be aware of this tonight and perhaps a combined defensive strategy, or alternate version of the traditional zone would be most effective in terms of taking advantage of Memphis' most glaring weakness.
This is a game we'll be attending tonight via media access so expect all sorts of interviews and exclusives tomorrow morning. As well, fire off any questions as usual that you'd like Franchise to ask this evening.