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3 in the Key - Raptors' Game-Day Preview vs Suns

After an absolute shellacking at the hands of the Nuggets, the Raptors head off to the Arizona sun for some desert action.  Vicious D discusses his thoughts on tonight's game and ponders the long term drafting strategy of the Raptors.

It's draft talk season which means it's usually time for me to avoid all the bars and such.  I've kept my distance like usual from speaking about something I really have little knowledge about.

Kyrie Irving?  I don't know you from that guy playing on the playground down the street.

It's not about disrespecting the NCAA, but I just don't follow it enough to make informed decisions. 

No, my interest right now is in the lockout that is looming in the NBA as the player's association seems more committed to doing whatever it takes to make sure they don't get steamrolled by the league.  With many years of prosperous growth under it's belt, it's hard to see why the NBA is so dug in about a hard cap.  We've seen what a hard cap has done to the NHL, and it won't be surprising to me if the NBA may stare down the same issues that plague the NHL now. 

It's definitely a fight between the rich and the wealthy, and us "mere mortals" (aka fans) can only sit back and watch.

However, there are rippling effects for this CBA.  For example, a lot of college kids have already figured out that they will wait it out this year and declare for next year's draft.  There's a worry that this year's draft may be one of the weakest ones in a long time. And it all brings a question to mind.

Why not stock up on picks for next year's draft?

I mean, if the feeling is that the NBA is going to enter into a lockout situation which will dilute a pool of players which is already weak in this year's draft, why not stock up on picks in the next year, or the year after.

I know it may not be sexy or it may not bring the most immediate results, but it's the kind of forethinking that could net the Raptors a lot of cheap, bargain-based talent.

It's also why I'm having a lot of difficulty getting excited about the Raptors attempting to trade for another pick or advocating losing to secure a better position.  They're almost guaranteed to draft outside of the top two positions in this year's draft anyways.

So for me, I say win, and try your darnedest to make your players look valuable to other teams, and develop your current talent.

To secure a win tonight against the Suns though, it will be no mean feat.  The Suns currently are battling to remain in the playoff picture against the Rockets and the Grizzlies.  However, working for the Raptors, the Suns also are coming off the first game of a back-to-back situation against the Lakers, and as such, may be a weary team tonight.  It's going to be up to the Raptors to take advantage with their three keys.

1) Make it a Game of Stamina - If the other team is coming into a back-to-back situation, it's time to hit them where it hurts.  With the Raptors having a few more physical players and a day of rest, here's hoping they can be punishing to the Suns.  I'm looking for guys like Reggie Evans and James Johnson to out hustle the Suns, and the Raptors will need to push the pace throughout the game. Ironically, Leandro Barbosa is just the perfect person to take it to his old team.

2) Inside-Out - Against one of the worse interior defenses, the Raptors need to keep attacking the inside often.  The Suns are 28th in blocked shots and are one of the poorer rebounding teams in the league.  Without their legs under them, they should be even softer inside and the Raptors need to play to that advantage. 

It may be asking for a lot, but I want to see Andrea Bargnani in the post often and if he doesn't get in there, the Raptors need to establish Amir Johnson if he's able to play.  Even James Johnson could be used to post up Grant Hill.  Bottom line, the Raptors need to establish that presence

3) Youth vs Experience - With Steve Nash, Vince Carter, and Grant Hill anchoring the Suns' offense, the Raptors will undoubtedly be tried by their veteran savvy.  On the other hand, the Raptors have youth on their side and they'll need to take full advantage of their athleticism.

Even though the Suns are getting on in years, they still are one of the premiere offenses in the league, being fourth overall in points scored and second and third overall in field goals and three pointers made respectfully.  If the Raptors allow the Suns to get open shots, additional possessions, and outlet passes, the Raptors will be in for a long night. 

So the Raptors are going to have to use their athleticism to their advantage.  They're going to have to play hard and run down their man through screens.  They're going to have to take the fight to the Suns. It's something that they've done a little of this year, so I don't think it'll be too much to ask them to do it again tonight.

After all, those kinds of wins will go a lot more towards developing our core players than simply losing for better draft position.