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

To no-one's surprise the Raptors are coming off a loss to the league's best San Antonio Spurs and now face the Portland Trailblazers.

Can the Raptors put together a solid effort and get a win at home?

Wins have been incredibly tough to come by this season for the Toronto Raptors.

Since the New Year, the Raptors have three wins having only won twice in the month of January.

What's scary is it is hard to believe the Raps will win more than two games in the month of February either.

Although the Dinoss managed to break the brutal losing skid last Friday against the Wolves, the rest of this month looks like a nightmare.

The teams Toronto faces this month are: Blazers, Clippers, Heat, Bobcats, Bulls, Suns and Mavericks.

Anyone see a win there?

Perhaps the only saving grace is that all but the Charlotte game are at home. Of course there is little in terms of "home-court" advantage for the Raptors lately. Having been to three recent games, the turn-out at the ACC has been sparse, at best.

Looking at the upcoming schedule I can't help but wonder what the consequences will be, if any, if the Raptors go through the meat of the NBA schedule in January and February and have only 3-4 wins to show for it?

For those keeping score at home, if Toronto only wins 1 more game this month, they will be 4 and 24 since the start of 2011.

I am no mathematician but that to me is "Black Eyed Peas Superbowl Half Time Show" bad.

If I thought it was empty at the ACC lately, in March it will be a dead zone.

The positive outlook on this is that if the Raps manage to win even 3 more games this month, people will be talking about how this team has turned the corner, and is moving in the right direction.

On to tonight's match-up and this week we reached out to for our weekly installment of "Blogging With The Enemy."

RHQ: Discuss the Blazers as an organization and what lies ahead. The bright future that was often discussed with a core of Roy, Aldridge and Oden seems to be no more. Does the future success of the team now simply rest on the knees of Brandon Roy?

BE: The state of the Blazers is confused.  Nobody knows for sure what the long-term health status of Portland's Big Three will be.  Nobody seems to know what Option B would be if Oden and Roy can't stay on the floor.  The Blazers are in no-man's land of being good enough to stay out of the lottery but not near good enough to do anything in the playoffs.  It's the dead zone around the NBA's equator, devilishly hard to sail out of, especially with a damaged ship.

Until further notice the Blazers will go exactly as far as Roy's health allows.  The big question is how long they'll be willing to live with that state of affairs.  One of the unspoken hopes might be the looming lockout.  The league taking a year off next season wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for Portland.  They'd come back in 2012 healthier and with the miasma of last two seasons wiped from their collective memory.

RHQ: If there has been any positives from the injury bug for the Blazers it has to be the emergence of LaMarcus Aldridge. How has his game changed over the past few seasons?

BE: It hasn't been the past few seasons as much as the past few months.  When Roy went down last year opposing teams put huge pressure on LaMarcus.  He responded by backing away, firing jumpers, and looking to get rid of the ball.  This year he's establishing better position, making more decisive moves, and foiling the defense before it gets to him.  Improved techniques have made his offense look quicker, creating space enough for his array of shots.  As his confidence in his offensive game soared, so did his production.  As his production soared, so did his willingness to play on the defensive end and rebound.  Lately he's been covering not only for Roy's points but for the injured Marcus Camby's rebounding.  That's some impressive coverage.  He still gets shut down some nights...a sure ticket to the Blazers losing.  But he comes through far more consistently and dramatically than he ever has.

RHQ: What are the keys to a Blazers victory against the Raptors?

BE:Slow down the game, mostly.  The Raptors are actually a really good matchup for the Blazers because Portland's guards are mobile and can defend and the Raptors have no imposing big men to make the Blazers pay for using Aldridge and/or Dante Cunningham and/or Nicolas Batum in their own big spots.  Portland's small lineup is often its best lineup and Toronto is tailor-made to play small against.  The Blazers need to get back on defense, move the ball on offense, and rebound.  Those are all Portland strengths this year.  I'd be more nervous if the Raptors could spread the floor with three-point shooting, but that's not a huge threat either.  Just stop the fast break and make Toronto work on defense and the Blazers should be fine.

And with that here are the three key's:

1.  Protect the Paint: The entire Raptors front court did a less than stellar job against the Spurs (70 points), and the Raps provided not resistance all night long. Calling Joey Dorsey! LaMarcus Aldridge has had an All-Star year thus far and he will eat the Raps alive if the Toronto team doesn't somehow manage to assemble some line of defense.

2. Bench Production: In addition to being terrible defensively against the Spurs, the Raps also got little in terms of bench production. What I find very strange is that without having practiced, Alex Ajinca got minutes in his first few games, but now, having gotten somewhat acclimatised and having had a practice or two he is not seeing the floor. Odd no?

3. Rebounding: Looking squarely at Andrea Bargnani on this one. The Blazers are not a strong rebounding team (25th overall) and the Raps need to win the battle of the glass. Second-chance points will be critical in this one and Bargnani needs to have a 7+ rebound game. The 2 rebound games have to stop and they have to stop now. If the Raps get beat on the glass it is going to make for a long night.