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

It's Nets vs Raptors again, only the HQ's Sean Tepper isn't going down the same road he did last time...

The last time that I previewed a New Jersey Nets vs. Toronto Raptors matchup, I made one of the most inaccurate predictions of all time.

At that time, the Toronto Raptors were 3-3, and riding a two game winning streak. For that game, I said that "I can finally say without a single doubt that the Toronto Raptors will beat the New Jersey Nets. Scratch that, the Toronto Raptors are going to manhandle the New Jersey Nets."

I could not have possibly been more wrong

That game had the makings of a trap game, and I was too caught up in the Raptors’ recent success to see it coming,

In their last game, Deron Williams had 24 points in New Jersey’s 97-85 win against Toronto, despite the fact that he (and Kris Humphries) was coming off of an injury to his ribs and oblique that he sustained during a collision that occurred against the Indiana pacers on Jan. 3. In that game, Andrea Bargnani scored 17 points for the Dinos, who will be without their leading scorer after he reinjured his calf against the Utah Jazz on Thursday.

After being sidelined for six of Toronto’s eight-game losing streak, Bargnani looked dominant in his recent return to the hardwood, scoring 36 points during Toronto’s game against the Phoenix Suns. However, the seven-foot centre will once again be on the bench, as Toronto will have to find a way to create offence, without their former first overall pick

Here are three things that the Raptors have to do to salvage some respectability against the New Jersey Nets tonight.

1) Scoring Points without Bargnani: Against the Denver Nuggets this Friday, Toronto failed to get much going offensively, as they shot just 39 per cent from the floor during that 96-81 loss. While he has missed a substantial amount of time with his calf injury, the Italian centre has been the team’s number one option all season and the Dinos have struggled without him in the starting line-up. Linas Kleiza had a huge game against the Jazz on Wednesday, scoring 25 points and shooting 50 per cent from the field in 33 minutes. With the Raptors being in desperate need of an offensive playmaker with Bargnani out of the line-up, Kleiza, DeMar DeRozan, and Leandro Barbosa will once again have to step up offensively, if the Raptors hope to keep pace with Deron Williams and Co.

2) Stop Deron Williams: If there is one team that Deron Williams has enjoyed playing against throughout his six-year career, it’s the Toronto Raptors. Williams is averaging 20.9 points and 12.3 assists in his last seven games against the Dinos, and the veteran point guard has never lost in 14 career matchups versus Toronto. Two nights ago, Williams scored 34 points and added 11 assists in a 97-90 overtime win at Philadelphia, and last night he scored 27 points against Cleveland. With MarShon Brooks, who is currently second in scoring on the Nets averaging 15.4 points per game, likely out for his fourth consecutive game, stopping Williams should be the defence’s number one priority if they are hoping to improve on their current 1-3 record at the Prudential Centre.

3) Dominating Play from the Bench: This may be a continuation from the first point that I mentioned, but the bench needs to contribute in a big way for the Raptors to win. Other than Bargnani, Leandro Barbosa has been Toronto’s most consistent offensive player, averaging 13.5 points per game, despite playing limited minutes off the bench. Other than Barbosa, the Raptors will count on Jerryd Bayless to build upon his 18 point performance a game ago and Ed Davis to set the tone for the game defensively.