The Toronto Raptors have seen things go from bad to worse over the last six days, as their record has dropped from a promising 3-3 to a dismal 4-7.
The last time I wrote a game preview about the Dinos, they were taking on the then 1-6 New Jersey Nets who were in the midst of a six games losing streak. In that article, I said that it was impossible for the heavily favoured Raptors to lose, stating how well they’ve been playing defence and how injury-riddled the Nets were as my main arguments for their success.
"Like every other Raptors fan, I'm prepared to be let down and disappointed but right now I'm just enjoying the ride and with the New Jersey Nets in town tonight, that ride shouldn't end anytime soon," I foolishly wrote.
Well not only has that ride ended, but it has crashed and burned.
Since getting embarrassed on their home court by arguably the worst team in the Eastern conference, the Raptors have reverted back to their 2011 selves. DeMar DeRozan has been struggling mightily, the offense cannot find any creative ways at getting to the basket and the defense can`t seem to come up with the big plays we were spoiled with in the first few games of the season.
Personally, I blame myself for jinxing them.
If Tuesday night's 93-78 beat-down at the hand of the Washington Wizards marked the team's lowest point, Wednesday's seven point loss to the equally pathetic Sacramento Kings was the season's most heartbreaking loss.
Meanwhile, things are looking very good for the Indiana Pacers, the team the Raptors face tonight, as they look to improve on their impressive 7-3 start. Despite Danny Granger’s early struggles, the Pacers seem to be clicking as a unit and may prove to be a legitimate playoff contender come April.
As of early Friday morning, whether or not Bargnani, who had an MRI yesterday on a strained calf, will play is very much up in the air. If the Dinos are forced to play without their seven foot center, here are three things that they’ll need to do to ensure a win.
1) DeMar DeRozan: Now I know that we are only 11 games into the 2011-12 season, but the Raptors need to at least be somewhat concerned about DeMar DeRozan’s sluggish start. Since they played the New Jersey Nets last Friday, DeRozan has been a non-factor on offense, combining for 44 points and shooting a dismal 31 per cent from the field over his past five games. With that being said, things may start to turn around for the young forward, as he scored 22 points on 9-16 shooting from the field when he played the Pacers earlier this season. For a person who has been touted as Toronto’s best and most talented player, DeRozan’s going to have start playing like it, especially if the Raptors take to the court without Bargnani, who injured his calf in Wednesday’s game.
2) A Tale of Two Teams: At the beginning of the season, the Raptors were playing extremely well offensively and managed to win games by playing timely defence. More recently however, it’s been the exact opposite. While the Dinos are still playing well defensively, their offence has been unable to get in a groove, with Bargnani and Barbosa proving to be the team’s two most consistent offensive players. The last time that these two teams played, all of Indiana’s starters put up double digit points, and that simply cannot happen again if the Raptors want to come away with a much needed win. On the offensive side, if Bargnani isn’t well enough to play, a lot of the team’s offensive success will rely squarely on Barbosa’s shoulders, as he is coming off of a 24 point night against the Sacramento Kings and is averaging close to 16 points off the bench. It is also worthy to note that Linas Kleiza played extremely well in his first game back from injury, as the fifth-year forward put up 10 points on 50 per cent shooting from the field.
3) A Must Win Game: Again, I know that we are still in the early parts of this season, but this is a must win game for the Raptors. Why? Because after this game, the Raptors will play 11 of their next 14 games away from the Air Canada Centre. Add that to the fact that they will be playing their next five games against the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Portland Trailblazers (at home) and Los Angeles Clippers respectively, and the last thing that the Toronto Raptors will want to do is head into that road trip on a three game losing streak. Regardless of how they perform in the aforementioned games, a win against Indiana will go a long way in boosting this young team’s morale.