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

The Raps had their hands full with the Hawks last time these clubs met, and without Andrea Bargnani, it's not going to be easy to prevent another loss. However the HQ gives their three keys on stealing a win from ATL...

The Atlanta Hawks are tied for third in the Eastern Conference standings, only a game behind the second-place Miami Heat, and only two games behind the first place Chicago Bulls.

Considering they've been missing a few players that would probably qualify as "key guys," in Al Horford and Kirk Hinrich, the latter of whom has recently returned, that's a pretty solid feat, and the Hawks would have to receive some serious consideration for "surprise team of the 2011-12 season."

The question is how?

Many experts thought this team would actually take a step back from last year's 44 win season thanks to the loss of players like Jamal Crawford.

However another strong season from Joe Johnson, and a potential All-Star campaign from Josh Smith have righted the ship, and improvements from players like Jeff Teague and Marvin Williams, who finally seems to be looking the part of a top 3 draft pick, have pushed the team to another level.

Factor in key contributions from additions like Tracy McGrady and Vladimir Radmanovic, oh...and of course, Ivan Johnson, and suddenly the Hawks are looking pretty good.

Forget individual personnel though, it's team play that's got them in the East's upper echelon and a quick look at some of the league's stats shows why. This is a very good offensive team, but they're not slouch on D either, sporting the NBA's second best point differential.

But it's on the offensive end that we'll start in terms of the three keys for Toronto to grab their fourth win in five games.

1) Guard the perimeter. One of the reasons the Hawks have been so deadly this year is because of their 3-point shooting. No, they don't take a ton, in fact, they are barely averaging more attempts than the Toronto Raptors on a per-game basis.

But they're making them.

To a tune of 40 per cent in fact, good for second-best in the league.

The Raps have struggled to generate offense without Andrea Bargnani, who as of now sounds like he'll be sitting again, so the last thing they need is to get in a fire-fight with ATL from long-range.

2) More DeMar. Let's not pull any punches here. If the Raptors want to win games in the absence of their top scorer, and if Leandro Barbosa is out again, in the absence of what's been their next best option on O this season, they need DeMar DeRozan to step it up. He did against the New Jersey Nets to the tune of 27 points, and for Toronto to pull out a W tonight, they need more of that from him again.

And not just hitting shots either.

One of the big reasons I thought Toronto got the W over NJ on Sunday was thanks to the tone DeRozan set with his aggressive forays to the basket. Even on attempted dunks that were blocked or that he was fouled on he was sending a message; "I'm coming in, and there's nothing you can do to stop me."

There is a lot more of that needed tonight on O, and on D, he's going to have to do a much better job against guys like Joe Johnson and even Josh Smith than he did last time the clubs met.

3) Run like the wind. How have the Raps won games minus Bargs? They've switched their style up. Without Andrea Bargnani the team has been playing at a faster pace and looking to get out in transition. This has brought players like DeRozan and Amir Johnson alive, as it's the style of game that plays to their strengths, and one that the Raps will have to utilize this evening.

However this doesn't mean the team can be sloppy in transition at either end. The Hawks play at the ninth-fastest pace in the league so are quite comfortable getting up and down the court. The Raps need to get out and go, but need to do so without turning things over, and sending the Hawks the other way for easy hoops.