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

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After another tough loss in Washington the Toronto Raptors continue their road swing in the Big Easy to face Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets.

Believe it or not this is their easiest match-up for the next week.

The HQ community is one filled with hard core passionate fans. This is how it was when we started the HQ, how it is and how it will always be.

When the team has success our "popularity" goes up but with success being more rare than the Dodo Bird as of late the community has very few fair weather fans. When this road trip ends there may no fair weather fans to be seen - there's a pretty good chance that when the Raptors return home they will have 31 losses and only 13 wins.

Heading into the season a few things were very obvious. First, on any given night the Raptors were going to have to outwork their opponents to get a win as they were sure to be over matched on talent alone. Second, the Raps biggest strength was their depth and their bench play was going to be key to staying in ball games. 

Now having completed approximately half the season two more things are very obvious. First, the Raptors have not outworked their opponents for the most part, in particular on the defensive end. Second, without an All-Star to lean on and carry them when the injury bug hits there is little chance of success.

Without the like of Leandro Barbosa, Reggie Evans, Sonny Weems, Peja Stojakovic and Jerryd Bayless I am left wondering just when the Raptors will win their next game. Will they win another game in January? With poor effort it's hard to say with any confidence that they will. 

The margin of error for the Raptors now is very slim. Until they can return to full strength, or at least close to full strength, wins are going to be very hard to come by. As Vicious D mentioned yesterday we are about to head into a part of the season where the focus won't be on wins and losses but rather player development. 

What may be the biggest challenge for this young Raptors team is keeping their heads up. The team is shy on true veteran leadership who can keep the ship a float. Will the young players wilt and throw in the white flag early and often or will they show some grit and toughness despite the mounting losses? We may learn a lot about this team in the next couple of weeks.  

Although watching you team lose is never enjoyable, the show must go on and today the Raptors face the New Orleans Hornets, a team that started the season red hot but has slowly come back down to earth and is now sixth in the Western Conference.

Here are this afternoon's three keys.

1. Stay Within Striking Distance: Over the next four games it is going to be a challenge for the Raptors simply to stay in the game. The Raptors need to do their best to stay within 8-12 points at all times. Provided the Dinos are within striking distance, the games will not only be more interesting but they will also be better experiences for the players. If the Raps do get blown out the next four, questions are going to start to be asked about Triano and his ability to motivate his players, not something the club needs in a season where the focus should be on individual player improvement.

2. Get Hot from Outside: One thing that can help the Raptors stay in the game is the three ball. If players like Jose and Andrea Bargnani can catch the feeling from beyond the arc, Toronto has a chance. The obvious concern with this strategy however is the classic saying "You Live By The Three and You Die By The Three". If the Raps start chucking up shots from the outside and go cold we all know the inevitable result.  

3. More DeRozan: DeMar has played very well on the road this year so look to him to have another break-out game. When the Raps get solid scoring games from both DD and Andrea they can be tough to stop. If DeRozan can get hot and put up 20-25 points this could be a closer game than one expects. (Provided it doesn't take him 20 shots to get those points.)  An offensive outburst is needed but it will be for nothing however if not accompanied by some solid D.

A reminder that today's game is a early start (2:00 p.m.) as it is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States. It may not be such a bad thing if most of us miss this one.....