The Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics will soon learn that with the New Year comes a new set of problem, as both teams enter the second half of the season with a number of key injuries to their roster.
It would appear as if the injury bug is finally catching up to the veteran Celtics, as they have dropped three of their last four games since their incredible 14-game winning streak and are set to face the Raptors without both Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. Since spraining his foot in a Dec.15th game against the New York Knicks, the Celtics have not looked nearly as dominant as they once did and the loss of Kevin Garnett, who is almost averaging a double double with 15 PPG and 9.5 RPG, certainly won't help their cause.
Like the Celtics, the Raptors know a thing or two about the difficulties of winning with injuries. The addition of Jerryd Bayless to an injury report that already features the likes of Andrea Bargnani, Peja Stojakovic, Reggie Evans and Sonny Weems is just the icing on top of the cake for the crippled Dinos who have lost 10 of their last 13 games.
Unlike the Celtics, who despite missing two of their best players have the luxury of leaning on grizzled veterans such as Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, the Raptors' injuries have exposed their lack of depth and veteran leadership.
Amidst all of their injuries Triano has to find a way to motivate his troops because a win against the division leading Celtics, would be a huge morale boost for this young and struggling Raptors squad. Here are the keys to today's game:
1) Feed the Fire: If you have watched the Raptors at all this season, then it is obvious that Andrea Bargnani has been the focal point of the team's offence. While Bargnani is a game time decision, the Dinos have to be prepared to win without their leading scorer and what better way to do that then by establishing a new go-to-guy on offence. DeMar DeRozan had the best game of his young career against Houston as he scored 37 points on 12 of 21 shooting. With his confidence at an all-time high, look for the Raptors to establish DeRozan as an offensive presence early on.
2) Amir Johnson: Yes, the Raptors' $34 million man is the second key to tonight's game. In his last two games, Johnson has averaged 13 points and 8.5 rebounds and has shown a few flashes of his potential in the month of December. While DeMar DeRozan stole the show in Houston by scoring 37 points, Johnson was able to quietly score 14 points while grabbing 11 boards. Not only will the Dinos continue to look for Johnson to contribute some quality minutes, but they will also look for the 6'9 forward to display his aggressiveness while staying out of foul trouble, ethic has been a problem for him this season. I really believe that Johnson will have to contribute at both ends of the court if the Raptors hope to take down their Atlantic division rivals.
3) Bench Play: Against Houston, Toronto's depleted bench was outscored 65-23. This simply cannot happen again if the Raptors want to win. With veterans such as Jermaine O'Neal and Marquis Daniels coming off the Celtics' bench, the way that Raptors' bench performs will dictate the course of the game. If they can rise to the occasion at outplay Boston's bench then the Raptors would be in a position to win the game, but if not, fans may be in for a long night at the ACC.