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

After falling to the 76ers, the Raptors embark on a Western road swing that will take the Raptors through the best and worst of the West.  First up are the L.A. Lakers who are undoubtedly looking for revenge after their loss earlier this year.

There simply is no resting point.

For our hometown heroes, the 76ers were a team that was just too tough to handle for a Toronto offense and defense that has been out of sync for the past week and half.  Losing five of the last six has completely eroded the lead the Raptors had built in January and February.  Now sitting in sixth place, the Raptors are in danger of falling out of the playoff picture if they do not figure out how to string some wins together in the next week.  However, it doesn't get easier at all with the Raps first facing the Lakers to start off their Western road trip. 

Nevertheless, this may be a good time for the Raptors to rediscover some of that team chemistry.   On the road Toronto has few distractions and will need to rely on each other.  Despite Antoine Wright's comments the other day defending Andrea Bargnani's porous defense against Thaddeus Young, the Raptors have just been doing a bad job communicating with each other on both ends of the court.  It's extended itself beyond defense and has started to affect the offense as well as Amir Johnson was caught for several offensive 3-second violations the other night. With Chris Bosh back, it would be expected that there would be an adjustment period, but the Raptors are running out of time and games to establish themselves in a higher position in the conference.

It's why this road trip may become the turning point of the year.

While tonight's match up against the Lakers will be extremely difficult to win, the Raptors have to show some tangible improvement on the court.  There's no doubt that the Dinos are a far cry from the team that beat the Lakers on their own home court back in Jan and the Lakers will undoubtedly be looking to this game as a revenge game. Add on the fact that the Lake-show has lost 3-straight and this surely will be a test of Toronto's mettle.  It's why I'd like to focus on these three points for TO, regardless if they win or lose:

1) Crisper rotations and switches
It's been bothering me for the past set of games, but today's game is one where the Raptors have to be aware of their surroundings.  While I do believe that Bargnani could have done more the other night, it is still up to his teammates to bail him out of tough situations.  There were preciously few situations where help defense was applied against Philly.  That has to change. 

2) A return to form
Specifically, players such as Andrea Bargnani and Antoine Wright.  Both have seen their point production decrease, and in Andrea Bargnani's case, his rebounding has been downright terrible.  Averaging around three to four rebounds in their last few losses, Bargnani's rebounding has all but disappeared.  There are preciously few opportunities for mistakes you can make while you're playing the Lakers and the Raptors will need a big effort from everyone, especially Bargs, who was instrumental in making sure the Raptors came out with a win the last time these two teams played. 

3) Be competitive (it starts with defense)
Another game, and the Raptors once again gave up well over 100 points.  With many teams scoring above their average against the Raps, there has to be some accountability towards why that happens.  Now I recognize that this may not be possible against such a highly skilled team as the Lakers, but the Raptors have to start somewhere.  They cannot continue to give over 110 points to teams and still expect to win come playoff time. While players like Reggie Evans have given the Raptors some added toughness, and energy the past few games, he is not a player that we should expect to see at crunch time. 

It's up to our starters, or more importantly, our game finishers to come through in the Raps' time of need.   Re-establishing their rhythm has to be Jay Triano's number one priority as without it, the Raptors are not going to get anywhere, even against the likes of the Sacramento Kings whom they play on Wednesday.

Which on the second night of the dreaded back-to-back, something that the Raps have struggled with all season.