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

With Bosh's status up in the air, the Raptors now embark on a tough stretch of games that will test the core of the team.  First up are the athletic, tall, and youthful Portland Trail Blazers.

Coming into this season, I believed that the Trail Blazers would be one of those teams that was due for a step back.  While they managed to avoid signing Hedo Turkoglu, they ended up with Andre Miller who has not exactly lived up to his billing and has posted lower averages in just about every statistical category this year. 

Just imagine if the Trail Blazers were able to have both Hedo Turkoglu and Andre Miller?

Toss in season ending injuries to Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden, and an ankle injury sustained by Marcus Camby last night against the Nets (as of writing, questionable for tonight) and you have a pretty soft front line.  The Raptors will still have to contend with LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy but will play Portland on the tail-end of a back-to-back.  And with the uncertainty of Chris Bosh, the Raptors will need to keep on the pressure on Portland by using all of their stars to their full potential.

After all, creating a cohesive strategy that uses every Raptors player will only benefit Bosh on his return. 

However, to make sure that they take advantage of the Trail Blazers, the Raptors will have to take care of these three keys:

1)  Hedo and the inside game
I don't believe I was being too harsh on Hedo Turkoglu last game.  What made him so effective for most of the Washington game was his willingness to drive the ball down the lane and consistently try to attack the inside of the Wizards.  However, in crunch time, Turkoglu turned into an outside brick-laying machine, which absolutely drove me crazy.  A player with his ability, his status on this team, and his knowledge of the game should have come off with more when the Raptors absolutely needed someone to step up and push them in the right direction.  With the Trail Blazers possibly being down yet another player, Turkoglu's inside game will dictate much of the Raptors' style of offensive play for the night.

2) Feed the Italian
The Raptors offense is kinda funny.  There's usually a lot of even distribution to a lot of players, but when the going gets tough, it's as though the Raptors are lost about where the offense should flow through.  This even includes times when Chris Bosh is on the floor, but it's even more pronounced in his absence.  However, if there's a question, the Raptors should have an answer in their big Italian center. 

Now I'll be first to admit that Bargnani posts up at awkward times in the offense, sometimes posting at the same time when Chris Bosh is posting.  Nevertheless, with Bosh possibly out of the lineup, the Raptors just are not trusting him with the ball in the post even in the times when they need inside scoring.  Whether it's Jose Calderon, Jarrett Jack, Hedo Turkoglu, or the coaching staff, the Raptors simply don't give Bargnani enough chances in the post but they should attempt it more often as he's shown some limited success there.  Heck, he's even drawn some fouls.

3) Free Throws
Portland's going to make a lot of free throws.  They're currently sitting third in free throws made and free throw percentage.  Without their best free throw presence, the Raptors will be hard pressed to match the Trail Blazers in their efficiency.  Top players on the Blazers are Andre Miller, Brandon Roy, Jerryd Bayless, and LaMarcus Aldridge, and it will be up to the Raptors, especially their guards, to make sure they do not commit a lot of silly fouls. 

In the past, Jose Calderon has shown some difficulties containing Andre Miller, however, the Raptors cannot even switch him off on another player because Brandon Roy is also a prolific free throw shooter and a much more dangerous offensive player.  So some personal accountability has to come from the Raptors and Jarrett Jack has to make sure he has one of his better games defensively. 

But most of all, I definitely do not want to see the Raptors pull out their dual point guard lineup.  That could spell disaster for our ACC heroes.