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3 In The Key - Toronto Raptors Game Day Preview vs. Atlanta

The Raptors are in a tailspin but not before taking an extra day in Indiana thanks to a snow storm.  Now, they land in Atlanta looking to face a team which they could potentially become in a few years.

The blame game has started and when even the largest apologists have run out of apologies, all that seems to be left is finger pointing. 

When even the Raptors announcers and the Toronto Star begin questioning the team, it's pretty safe to say that the 2010-2011 Raptors have just about run out of chances. 

The writing's been on the wall for weeks.

With the Raptors being slugged by the injury gremlins and their "veteran presences" shipped off earlier in the year, the Raptors are young, not spending a heckuva lot of money, and were down to using D-leaguers to fill roster spots.

Yes, when it comes down to it, there's only two areas that I can point to as far as the Raptors troubles are concerned this year, and that's youth and money.  The good thing is, both can be taken care of over time.  Spending more money of the years, accruing more experienced players, and paying to keep their developing young talent, the Raptors could be in a good position in a few years. 

Yup.  No easy fixes.

Take our opponents for tonight.  For many years, the Atlanta Hawks were considered by many to be the most athletic but undisciplined group of youngsters in the NBA.  Over the course of many drafts, they surrounded Joe Johnson with athletes and over the course of years, players like Josh Smith, Marvin Williams, and Al Horford emerged from the Hawks' talent pool.  Over the course of the next few years, the Hawks would sell off other pieces to gain more experience which brought players like Mike Bibby into the fold. 

When I look at the Raptors, I want to see the Raptors grab the best talent possible in the draft so that they can set themselves up for success in the future.  I want them to give their young talent time to grow together.  I want to see them surround that youth with some valuable veteran leadership.

However, for today, we'll have to look at the Hawks and dream wistfully of a successful future.

Against the Hawks, the Raptors are going to find themselves between a rock and a hard place.  With some returning pieces who are still nursing some injuries, the Raptors may not be at 100% speed when they come up against the Hawks.  It's too bad since the Hawks have no injuries to report after their loss against the Dallas Mavericks. It'll be full strength against returning strength, and if the Raptors hope to beat the Hawks, here's what they'll have to do.

1) Defend the Paint - Yup, it may be a lost cause some nights, but we saw so much of Ed Davis in Indiana, and it would be a shame to dismiss his effort as a flash in the pan.  The Raptors are going to need to build on his presence and ensure the Hawks stay a jump-shooting team for the night.  Whether that means limiting some player's minutes, then so be it.  If the Raptors cede the paint to the Hawks, this game is going to be over quick without much resistance.

2) Young Wings - DeMar DeRozan has been fighting a mini slump, but I think the key is how DeRozan figures out to be an effective player in games when his shot isn't falling.  All the great wings could do more than just make jump shots and getting to the line consistently for 8-10 attempts per game will go a long way towards rounding out his game.  Toss in with some increased rebounding numbers over the last little while and DeMar may surprise a few people in the future.

His Young Guns partner though, has to get his act together.

Even before his injury, Sonny Weems seemed to be struggling to find his place on the roster.  When Sonny was doing his thing, he managed to be a very effective part of the team who was an effective scorer and an athletic defender.  When he attempted to do too much on offense and did too little on the defensive end, Weems showed his colours as an wildly inconsistent player.  Now toss in a propensity to turning the ball over since his return, and the Raptors should now be asking Weems to follow DeRozan's lead

Against the Hawks and their athletes, the Raptors will need some inspired defense from both young players.

3) Bibby Bounce - There have been a lot of games where Mike Bibby has absolutely torched the Raptors.  Jose Calderon is a player who should be no stranger to what Bibby can do over the course of games.  Bombing the Raptors from 3 point range and averaging around 18 points per game against the Raptors, Mike Bibby has been a very real offensive threat next to Joe Johnson.  Both Calderon and Jerryd Bayless have to challenge Bibby throughout the game so that the rest of their teammates do not have to face down another scoring threat on the Hawks' team.