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3 in the Key: Raptors' Game-Day Preview vs. Mavericks

After losing a closely fought game to the upstart Indiana Pacers, the Raptors head back on the road and find themselves in Dallas for a showdown with the champions tonight. The HQ's Sasha Kalra previews the action.

The Raptors split their opening two games of the season and are heading out on a 3 game road trip, starting tonight. They will face the defending champion Dallas Mavericks who have somehow managed to get 15 years older over the summer. Lamar Odom and Vince Carter are two veteran players that they have managed to add to their core and they will be hopeful of keeping their championship window open for at least this season.

While it's early in the season, tonight should be the Raptors' toughest game yet, and a great chance to see how their revamped defence matches up against a top-quality basketball team. The Mavericks can be a matchup nightmare and have many options off the bench. They're also coming off a hard-fought loss against the Thunder and while the Mavericks haven't quite clicked into gear yet, it would be folly to underestimate them, especially at home.

This game will also mark Dwane Casey's return to Dallas and he should be looking to make a statement. Here are 3 keys he should keep in mind when formulating the game-plan...

  1. 1. More James Johnson:

James Johnson has been coming off the bench as of late but is it too soon to plug him into the starting lineup? His offensive game is still a work in progress but he has been the Raptors' best wing defender in this embryonic season as his work rate, defensive intensity and knack of being able to steal the ball have helped the team. The Mavericks will likely field a combination of Vince Carter, Lamar Odom and Shawn Marion at the 3 tonight and James Johnson's athleticism will serve him well in these match-ups.

  1. 2. Set the tempo early:

The Mavericks will be playing the second half of a back to back after grinding it out with the uber-athletic Thunder last night. The Raptors have a younger and more athletic team than the Mavs and it would be worthwhile to get running early and take advantage of those tired old legs.

  1. 3. 3rd option:

Sound familiar? Last season we saw many games where Andrea Bargnani put up 20 some points, and at times DeMar DeRozan put up big numbers as well. But it wasn't until the end of the season that both started to together, and even then, a third option offensively was usually needed. We saw this again Wednesday night against Indiana when the Raptors simply couldn't execute offensively down the stretch. The team's two biggest scoring options at this point are again, Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan, but they cannot do it on their own. They need help putting the ball in the basket and so far no player has shown that they can consistently be that third guy. Could it be Barbosa? Bayless? Jamaal Magloire? In all seriousness, the Pacers showed the advantage of having a third option, especially one close to the basket, and it would be great for someone on the Raptors to take on that role.

In addition to our three keys...

Some intriguing matchups tonight:

  • Young and athletic DeMar DeRozan up against old, slow and round Vince Carter?
  • Andrea Bargnani going up against the player with whom he has been most often compared with. Dirk with another chance to show everyone that the comparison was mostly unwarranted.
  • Leandro Barbosa up against Jason Terry in a battle of the undersized off the bench 1.5's who like to shoot.