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

The Raps continue their lottery push by taking on the Golden State Warriors this evening...

Were the Duke Blue Devils watching footage of the Toronto Raptors last night before they played or what?

Duke channeled their "inner-Dino" by showing absolutely no toughness or execution when it counted, losing 93 to 77 to the Arizona Wildcats.  

It was a remarkable performance by a Zona team that seems to get stronger with every game. The club was the second-worst in the Pac 10 all season in terms of defensive field-goal percentage, yet have been incredibly locked-in on D the past two games.  They also failed to miss from the field last night shooting 54 per cent, 60 from long range.

From a Raptors' fan's perspective, you saw just why Kyrie Irving would be a huge asset should the Raps get a chance to draft him.  He's almost impossible to contain, has a great looking shot, and just makes the game look so easy.

However it's hard not to think that Derrick Williams wouldn't be a nice piece as well at this point.  He was simply unstoppable last night as Duke was forced to double team him inside thanks to his low-post abilities, yet he killed the Blue Devils from the perimeter too, dropping in 3 after 3.  Is he a tougher version of Antawn Jamison (Chad Ford's post-game comparison?)  A more skilled and athletic David West?  Those are the two players you hear the most in terms of comparisons but suffice to say that it was hard for me not to watch Williams and think that he could easily replace Andrea Bargnani and James Johnson together in one fell swoop.

And really that's what it's all about now right?

Can Toronto ensure they keep that "top 5" record in terms of lottery seeding.

The team had a shot at prospects like Steph Curry, Tyreke Evans and James Harden in 2009, but a late surge thanks to the acquisition of Shawn Marion kept Toronto out of the running for some of that draft's biggest impact players.

Currently, the club has a three and a half game cushion on the New Jersey Nets (sixth-worst record) and a full five games on the Detroit Pistons (league's seventh-worst record.)

They also are only a game and a half back of the Sacramento Kings for fourth, and two and a half of Washington for third.

However as one of our readers pointed out yesterday, the schedule does not favour Toronto in terms of leap-frogging the Kings or Wiz, so in all probability, the Raps will secure that 5th spot.

Washington has games remaining against Denver, Golden State, Utah, Miami, Cleveland, Detroit, Indiana, Boston, Atlanta, Boston again, and Cleveland again as well.

That's a pretty tough haul and of that group, I'd say the Wiz take max three games, with home matches against Cleveland and and Detroit looking like the safest bets, and perhaps the team closes out the season with only their second road win, once more against the Cavs.

Sacramento has games remaining against Indiana, Phillly, Phoenix, Denver, Denver again, Utah, Houston, San Antonio, Memphis, Golden State, OKC and the Lakers.


Anyone see Sacramento winning even a game in that group?

We'll say maybe one, but I think that's probably being generous considering a bunch of the teams they play down the stretch are fighting for playoff position in the West.

And what about the Nets, the team that's "hottest" on Toronto's trail?

They've got matches against Orlando, Atlanta, Houston, New York, Philly, Miami, Minnesota, Detroit, New York again, Detroit again, Toronto, Charlotte and Chicago.

If Deron Williams returns to action in the next game or so, as he's expected to, I'd say the Nets can win at least three of those matches.  That would give them a 26 and 56 record on the season.

Considering the Raptors have but 20 wins currently, is it possible for Toronto to win seven of its remaining games? (New Jersey currently holds the tie-breaker thanks to the debacle in the UK.)

Let's take a look at the schedule.

After tonight's match against the Warriors, the Raps take on the Clippers, a Bucks team fighting for that last playoff spot, the Bulls, the Magic, the Knicks, the Cavs, the 76ers, the Nets, the Bucks again and the Heat.

I'd put the Raps win mark at 3 with the Clippers, Bucks, Nets and a Heat team probably resting its' big guns before the playoffs, as the best options for W's.

Suffice to say then that it would take an epic collapse by the Nets, or a huge streak from the Raptors to dislodge them from the fifth worst-record in the league at this point.

Is that good enough to get an impact player next season?

Well, if indeed Toronto does grab the fifth pick in the draft, history has produced players like Kevin Love, Jeff Green, Raymond Felton, Devin Harris, Jason Richardson and of course, Vince Carter, at that spot.

Point being?

It looks like the Raps are pretty locked in right now in terms of the number of lottery balls they can accumulate.  So while it would be great to see the losing streak continue tonight against the Warriors, it probably won't make much difference in terms of lottery seeding and a win could be the more beneficial option now, thinking long-term.

To get that win though, I've got just one key today; the Raps simply need much better execution down the stretch tonight.

This means finishing plays, rebounding the ball, and maybe most importantly, making shots down the stretch.

The Warriors have lost six straight and don't seem to be in any rush to start winning again.  They still have one of the league's best offenses, but they're only percentage points above the Raptors in terms of defensive efficiency woes. This is a battle of two fairly evenly matched clubs and while the Warriors trounced TO back in November, this Raptors' club with the additions of James Johnson and Jerryd Bayless, and the development of Ed Davis, should be much more up to the task.

Let's just hope they don't pull a Duke...