After losing to a Celtics squad missing one of its top guns, the Raptors get another shot at a top team missing a key piece; the Noah-less Bulls.
The Toronto Raptors went 1 and 3 in their last four games, all without Andrea Bargnani.
Tonight, he's scheduled to return as the Raps take on the Chicago Bulls.
While Andrea remains the biggest hot-button topic amongst fans, watching the Dinos play without him did little to tell us much about the team in his absence.
Are they a better defensive club minus Andrea?
Were they worse off at the other end of the court though?
It would appear so.
Toronto scored an average of only 88 points in Andrea Bargnani's absence, well shy of their season average of 100 points per game. And while defensively they held opponents to an average of 95 points, also well shy of their average of 104 points per game so far this season, the point differential during Andrea's absence was actually worse than when he was around.
I'm a big believer in point differential, and so far the Raptors this season have given up four points more to opponents than they themselves score.
Pretty hard to win games that way of course.
But minus Bargs, Toronto actually gave up on average seven more points, which if it continued, would put them between Cleveland and Sacramento in terms of the league's worst point differentials.
Does that mean that without a doubt things are a lot better with Andrea playing key minutes? No, it's a small sample size of course, and Andrea wasn't the only Raptor missing in action during that time period.
But I thought it was an interesting stat, especially for those of us who contend that Andrea offers more cons than pros for the Raptors.
Tonight fans will get to see just how much of an impact he can have as Bargs and the Raps take on Derrick Rose and his Bulls. It'll be another tough match in what's been a series of them, and to grab a W, here are our 3 keys:
1) Stop the Boozing. Last time these teams met, Carlos Boozer made his presence felt. He had a season-high 34 points and 12 rebounds and Toronto could offer little in terms of resistance against him. Boozer is such a tough cover in close because of his size, touch, rebounding and solid footwork that even if he's not putting points on the board himself, his play can open things up for the likes of Rose, Deng and others. Toronto has to do a better job tonight of limiting his easy looks, but also limiting his overall impact on the offensive end of the court.
2) Hold onto the Ball. As we've seen of late, the Raptors haven't been their usual "turnover-free" selves. Usually one of the top teams in this capacity, this year, Toronto is sitting at 21st in terms of limiting turnovers, tied with...yep, the Chicago Bulls. Rose is a wizard at point, but part of what makes him so dangerous is the fact that he likes to make risky plays. A ton of Toronto's offence is predicated on scoring in transition and off of stops, so a big key tonight will be for the Raps to do a better job of holding onto the ball then the Bulls.
3) Point Guard Play. It sounds like Jerryd Bayless will be back for this one too, but there's no telling just how healthy either he or Jose Calderon will be in reality. Someone's going to have to slow down Derrick Rose though, who's turning in an MVP type campaign. We can talk defence and rebounding (both keys as usual) but if the Raps can't at least slow Rose down, it will be a long night. The Bulls are one of the league's top defensive clubs, so I don't expect a huge scoring night from the Dinos. Therefore they'll need to get it done on D, and that starts with making Rose take contested shots, and keeping one of the league's best penetrators from getting wherever he wants on the floor. Easier said that done I know, but guys like Ed Davis and Amir Johnson have the length to bother Rose on switches and hedges, and perhaps Triano can attempt to take the ball out of his hands as much as possible, like his club did to Jason Terry in their win over the Mavs.