If the Raptors want to see the post-season a win at the ACC against the Bulls would go a VERY long way in helping the team achieve that goal.
Tied for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Easter Conference the Raps and Bulls face off tonight.
There are a lot of peak's and valley's in a typical NBA Season and the Raps have had their fair share. During losing streaks we have talked about getting a "much needed win" and against better opponents we have talked about the team getting "a statement win".
Well now the team is facing a must win.
If the Raps win tonight's game they control their own destiny in regards to making the playoffs. If the Bulls win suddenly the Raps are going to be looking for some help from the likes of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Charlotte Bobcats. You always want to control your own destiny.
WIth both team's coming off losses, the Bulls having lost a heartbreaker in New Jersey in double overtime, neither team has exactly been making a late season push for the playoffs. No matter who actually takes the final playoff spot in the East they will be limping in like a lamb rather than roaring in like a lion.
Actually, given the team that takes the final playoff spot has a date with the Cleveland Cavaliers this might be the most significant game either team plays this season even if they DO make the playoffs.
The Raptors have managing to keep their heads above water despite a string of injuries, including the latest - an ankle injury to Antoine Wright. As mentioned yesterday it's been the play of the lesser known players like Sonny Weems and Amir Johnson that have prevented the Raps from doing a full-nose dive in the Eastern Conference standings.
Meanwhile the Bulls have slowly been getting healthier with Joakim Noah no longer seeing limited minutes....or atleast we think so. There appears to be some conflict as between Bulls management and the coaching staff on the issue.
It's a big game. Plain and simple. Based on all of the recent sound bites both teams want to make the second season - although their words have not been supported by their actions.
For the Raps to save what has been a very disappointing season here are the three keys:
1. Big Effort from Big Names: It has been awesome to see guys like Weems and Johnson get opportunities to shine but if the Raps are going to get this game they need big performances from Andrea Bargnani and Hedo Turkoglu. Both players played well in Atlanta but playing "well" just isn't enough in this sort of game. I want Andrea to be working the glass (he can, the question is will he) and Turk with the ball in his hands making positive things happen. As much as I love getting behind the lesser known players it's on the big money guys to get this job done.
2. Fan Support: Raps fans are a disgruntled bunch. Expectations have not been met. The team has been brutal at home as of late and there is no goodwill built up on which the Raptors can rely should they find themselves down to the Bulls early. If the Raps don't come out playing like a pack of hungry wolves the fans have every right to boo, but here is hoping they don't. This Toronto team needs the 6th man to be there tonight willing them to the victory. Tonight's game won't just be an acid test for the Raptors but also for the fan base as well.
3. Perimeter Defense: We all know known what this means. We all know how important it is. We all know the Raps do a crappy job of it. We all know they have to do better. Will they?
Hopefully these teams come out and play like they want to win and look like two teams just struggling not to lose. There is a strong argument that neither of these teams deserves to be in the playoffs, in particular given the likes of Memphis and Houston will be watching from home despite the stronger seasons, so it would be nice to see a hard fought match-up.