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3 In the Key: Toronto Raptors Game Day Preview vs. Philadelphia

Hopefully Bosh's bout with the stomach flu was just temporary.  The Raptors will need all the size that they have to face the 76ers in what will be the third match-up of the year between the two Atlantic Division rivals.  Vicious D looks into today's matinée game.

There are just some things that are unexpected.  Opening up my morning sites for the day, I turned to the Toronto Star sports section and caught this gem.  File the following into things that I didn't think I'd hear this year:

"Well, he’s (Tracy McGrady) been playing pretty well lately, but it’s just that their athleticism is at a bit higher level than ours"

- Jeff Van Gundy (After Friday's loss to the Raptors)

Pretty unexpected to be sure.

After putting in a yeoman's effort against the Knicks, the Raptors were finally rewarded with their first win in five games. In large part to the return of Hedo Turkoglu and Jose Calderon, the Raptors withstood the Knicks and got some necessary help from their secondary players such as Amir Johnson and Sonny Weems.  This was partly thanks to a revamped rotation that saw Amir Johnson in a starter's role next to Andrea Bargnani, thereby allowing Johnson more minutes. 

However, with Chris Bosh presumably back in the lineup, the minutes will once again need to be juggled as the Raptors now face Reggie Evans's old team for a third time.  I'm looking for a reduction in Evans's minutes and a return to status quo for Amir Johnson after his solid game the other night.  I'm also hoping for more extended minutes for Sonny Weems and a further reliance on Jose Calderon to help make shots down the stretch.

At the same time, the Philadelphia 76ers seem to have run into a rough spot in the schedule.  Similarly like the Raptors, the Sixers have lost five games in a row and have continued to be at the tail end of the playoff picture.  The 76ers are not challenging the Raptors for their playoff position anytime soon, but this is a game the Raptors need as they will venture out on a four game road trip out West.  Nevertheless, winning this game against the 76ers would go a long way towards re-establishing the Raptors' identity, and that identity begins with Chris Bosh.  So in today's game I'm going to be looking at the following three keys:

1) Bargnani's return to form
New York was not the first team to aggressively attack Bargnani in the post with some double teams, and it's not going to be the last.  The hope is that with Bosh returning, the big Italian will be able to have more room to operate in as Bosh and Bargnani have been developing some good chemistry together for the past two months.   I believe that Bosh's return will help many players, but perhaps none more so than Andrea Bargnani.

2) Defensive Coherence
Crisp rotations, charges, lane intimidation.  All three of these things are part of Bosh's repertoire, and a return of Bosh will mean that the Raptors will be just that much better at all three.  However, I also believe that Bosh's willingness to call out schemes and position players has been sorely missing.  Chris Bosh has been nothing, if not vocal on defense and just hearing their leader call the shots will mean that the Raptors should experience better rotations.  Of course, better rotations will also mean more opportunities for blocks and charges, which should help players like Antoine Wright and Andrea Bargnani respectively.

3) All-Star Calls and the Free Throw Line
While I fully expected the Raptors to completely forget about getting to the line, they did manage to put some shots up from the charity stripe while Bosh was out.  There is, however, no comparison with how often and effective Chris Bosh is when he's at the free throw line.  Continuing his free throw efficiency, racking up fouls on the opposition's front line, and finally getting those last-second, game-changing All-Star calls has really turned around the Raptors' season.  Getting back to that form against the 76ers will not be easy, but it will be necessary if the Raptors hope to win, and here's hoping that Bosh can re-establish that part of his game.