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

Plenty of Raptors fans are still trying to forget Friday night`s loss to Vince Carter...I mean the Phoenix Suns...when they should be getting focused on Sunday night`s game against Mark Cuban...I mean the Dallas Mavericks.

On paper, this game has the makings of a blowout.  

Yes the Raptors may have emerged victorious the last time that the Toronto Raptors met the Dallas Mavericks, on Dec. 28, but that was when the Mavs were without their seven foot German forward, and riding a terrible losing streak.

Tonight is a different story.

The Mavericks, who are winners of 15 of their last 16 games, seem almost unbeatable. Jason Kidd is averaging 12 assists over his last two games, Tyson Chandler is consistently cleaning up the boards, and Dirk Nowitzki, well he`s just being himself. Even former Raptors' reject Peja Stojakovic is averaging 13.4 points in his last four games including an 18 point 7 of 9 shooting night against Utah on Wednesday.

The Raptors will have their work cut out for them tonight, and will need a lot of players to step up against one of the best teams in the West.

Until about a month ago, I found Amir Johnson to be the most frustrating Raptor to watch. Here's a guy who last off-season, was rewarded with a five-year $34 million contract simply for having the perfect measurable, youth and potential to become an above average power forward. When Johnson did show flashes of his potential throughout the course of the season, those games were generally followed up with multiple mediocre to below average performances. However, something clicked at the end of January and the beginning of February as Johnson was consistently putting up big numbers night in and night out and at times looked like the dominating power forward that a lot of critics said he had the potential to become. Say what you want about how his injuries are affecting his performance, but the reality is that the Raptors need him to play well if they hope to consistently win games. While not ideal, tonight`s matchup is a good place for Johnson to start showing that he can play at a high level on a consistent basis.

Especially considering that both he and fellow forward Ed Davis both had solid games against the Mavs the last time around.

Yes, winning tonight`s game certainly won`t be easy, but if the Raptors can consistently score and control the clock, then they may stand a fighting chance.

Here are tonight`s keys to the game.

1.       Contain the Mavericks: Everyone knows that the Raptors` defence is by far and away the team`s  biggest weakness, but they will have to step it up this evening if they hope to come away with a W. Nowitzki, Chandler and Terry all scored over 20 points last night against the Washington Wizards and although Kidd only scored three points, he managed to rack up 14 dimes. The Raptors don`t necessarily need to overwhelm the Mavericks on defence, but they need to find a way to control both the tempo and the pace of the game. If they are able to efficiently manage the clock and limit the Maverick's opportunities, then the Dinos should find themselves in a position to pull off the upset.

2.       Amir Johnson and Ed Davis: The last time that Davis faced the Mavericks, he posted a career high 17 points and managed to grab 12 rebounds. Another stellar performance for him would not only solidify him as one of the NBA`s young up and comers, but may help propel the Raptors to a victory. Both Davis and Johnson are two of the franchises` cornerstones, and both will need to have big games tonight. Johnson in particular will have his work cut out for him as he will most likely be guarding Nowitzki, who has proven throughout his career to be a tough player at both ends of the court. The way that these two players play will likely dictate the outcome of the game.

3.       Bench play: On Friday against the Suns, the Raptors had all 12 of their players enter the game.  However unlike that match, tonight, they will need this bench crew to put forth a much stronger performance.  While Leandro Barbosa is clearly the go-to-guy off the bench, the Raptors will look to Jerryd Bayless, Sonny Weems, Julian Wright and of course Mr. Davis to help counter the likes of Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, and J.J. Barea. It would help if TO's starters don't put themselves in a huge hole to begin with, but suffice to say that without a nice boost from the pine this evening, this will undoubtedly be loss number 44 on the season.

Sean Tepper


One reminder too about tonight's game, it's RTZ night at the ACC so if you haven't grabbed your tickets yet, be sure to do so.  It's the first "tweet-up" in Raptors' history and the first 30 people to purchase tickets will be welcomed court-side for pre-game shoot around. Post-game, all attendees will be invited for a meet and greet with a Raptors player. Each purchased ticket also gives you a RTZ t-shirt, a chance to win tickets at a future game, a chance to be moved to platinum seats during the game and lots of giveaways.

The link once again to the poster --

And a reminder that you can use the code RTZ to purchase tickets!