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3 In the Key - Toronto Raptors Game Day Preview vs. 76ers

It's a rather big day in basketball. 

Today the Final Four begins but before the tip-off between Butler and Michigan State the Raptors take on the Philadelphia 76ers

I think the Raptors are going to make the playoffs. 

They are two games up on the Chicago Bulls and given the schedule ahead, combined with this team's play as of late, should result in an appearance in the NBA 2010 Playoffs. That's the good news.

The bad news? If the Raptors do end up in 8th they will be facing the Cleveland Cavaliers.

If you use the ESPN Playoff Simulation Machine the Raptors have a 4% chance of beating the Cavs in the first round. If you are a person that likes to bet on the under dog, a Cavs-Raptors match-up might be just what you are looking for.

Think the Raps have more than a 4% chance of beating the Cavs? Well before you place a wager consider the fact that if the Raptors do make the playoffs they will be the ONLY team to do so with a negative points differential between points for and points against. They will also be the only team in the Eastern Conference playoffs to give up more than 97.5 points per game. The Raps give up 105.3 points per game.

4%? From where I am sitting those odds seem about right. 

The scary part is the Raptors, as an organization, will be foregoing a mid first round pick for that 4%. For a team that in my eyes needs some major reconstruction, with or without Chris Bosh, those are just bad odds all around. 

With this in mind I am going to have a tough time cheering for the Raptors over the course of the final couple of weeks. For the long term health of this team I hope they don't make the playoffs. Besides, watching Lebron James & Co. beat-up on the Raps like a pinada is just not that appealing of a thought. 

At least if Bosh does move on to greener pastures (and in my mind he would be crazy not to) the more assets and picks this team has the better. Hell, maybe Colangelo could package that pick with can dream right? 

Actually if you look at the Raptors situation and that of the 76ers there are some definite similarities. Both teams are saddled with some brutal contracts (Brand/Hedo, Dalembert/Bargnani), have a player getting paid superstar money for being a first rate complimentary piece on a real contender (Bosh/Iggy), and a fan base calling for a new head coach.

Actually if you look at the Raptors situation and the 76ers situation whose long term future looks brighter? Looks like a toss-up to me. 

But back to the short term. Here are this afternoon's three keys.

1. Stop Penetration: If you remember the last time these two met the 76ers wingmen absolutely took it to the Raps. Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday both had fantastic games and the Raps defense was more or less non-existent. Today the Raps have to be sure they protect the paint and force the 76ers to settle for jumpers. Easier said that done that's for sure. If I am Jay Triano I tell Marcus Banks to be ready for a little action because Jose Calderon simply doesn't have the quicks to stop Jrue Holiday or a limited (by injury) Lou Williams from taking it to the rim time after time after time.....

2. Keep up the strong effort: The Raps, despite the mediocre record to show for it, have played good basketball as of late. This season, just when you think the Raps have turned a corner they have laid a stinker. There is little margin for error this time of year and let down games have to be a thing of the past. Generally the Raps have had good success in the matinee match-ups so hopefully this trend will continue.

3. A typical CB4 Performance: The last time these teams met it marked the return of CB4. Up until last game you had to wonder whether he came back to early as his performances were lacking. A Raptors win will be heavily dependent on what sort of production they get from their franchise guy. Another performance like that against the Clippers and the Dino's should have win 38.