The season finally gets underway for the Toronto Raptors this evening-well, the preseason at least.
Tonight the Dinos will kick off their preseason schedule by welcoming Real Madrid to the ACC . While Real Madrid may not be a household name for most fans of the NBA, that certainly doesn't mean that they will be easily beaten.
Real Madrid plays in the ACB league which is the highest tier of competitive basketball in Spain.
Combing through the roster, you will also notice that there are a couple of familiar names on that list--most notably Spanish guards Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez who both previously spent time playing in the NBA.
In addition, Nikola Mirotic is another name that NBA fans should get used to hearing. Mirotic was the 23rd pick in the 2011 draft by the Houston Rockets--that pick was later swapped to the Timberwolves and then again to the Bulls--and is widely regarded as one of the best young big-man prospects outside of the NBA.
Mirotic faired quite well when pitted against Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph on Saturday during Real Madrid's 105-93 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Mirotic finished with 14 points and 7 rebounds in just over 28 minutes of action.
On the Raptors side of things, this game will act as a barometer of how far this team has come during training camp, and how far they still need to go before the actual games begin.
In all likelihood the Raptors will be without their starting point guard Kyle Lowry as well as Jonas Valanciunas, leaving the Dinos a tad shorthanded, but also giving Dwane Casey a shorter rotation to work with. Although this may not necessarily help the team win the game, it will mean more minutes for guys like John Lucas III and Quincy Acy, giving us a better idea of what we can expect from those guys going forward.
John Lucas III will be a particularly interesting player to watch play extended minutes as that is something that may become a reality during the regular season if Jose Calderon is moved.
At the very least, game one of the Raptors preseason will provide fans with a good look at what kind of talent the team will be working with this season. They may be a little rusty, particularly offensively, but one of the team's strengths--it's depth--should be on full display this evening.
As usual, here are the three keys to a Toronto Raptors victory:
1) Close out on Shooters: In Real Madrid's contest with the Grizzlies on Saturday they attempted 34 three-point shots. Although they made only nine, those shots are a key part of their offensive game plan.
Real Madrid's guards like to drive and kick to the open shooters, so this is something that the Raptor guards are going to need to be aware of. This means providing extra help on the perimeter and being quick to recover. This aspect of Real Madrid's game should really test the Dinos' early commitment on the defensive end of the floor
2) Shut Down Mirotic: As mentioned above, Nikola Mirotic is a serious talent and one of Real Madrid's best offensive options down low. Bargnani's defense will be tested early and often against Mirotic, which again should provide a good indication of where Bargnani is at defensively to begin the preseason.
3) Get out and Run: Last season, the majority of the abbreviated training camp was spent working on defense for the Raptors. Because of this, the defense improved, but the offense slipped a bit.
This year, now armed with a full training camp, one of the biggest things that Dwane Casey has been stressing--aside from team defense--is his team's need to take advantage of their athleticism offensively and push the ball.
Look for the Dinos to practice what Casey has been preaching, and get out on the break any opportunity they get against Real Madrid.