For a moment it was exciting. The Toronto Raptors were coming off of a productive season and sporting a number of fresh faces in the hopes of becoming a playoff contending team. But that was last week, before the Raptors were sporting a dismal 1-4 record
Five games into the season and it looks as if fans may be in for another long one. Andrea Bargnani's shooting woes have translated into the regular season, Landry Fields has been playing worse than even his most cynical critic could have imagined, and Kyle Lowry is dealing with a low ankle sprain that may or may not sideline him for an extended period.
More concerning than the reasons above is that the Raptors are playing horrendous defense; something that we have yet to see in the Dwane Casey era.
Casey has said that the team's starting roster may get a shake-up sooner rather than later, with Amir Johnson rumored to take Jonas Valanciunas' place and Alan Anderson or Terrence Ross expected to take over for the seemingly injured Landry Fields. While I understand that the sample size may be small, the Dinos are allowing an even 100 points per game which is six more than they averaged last season. Luckily for them the Philadelphia 76ers are dead last in the league in scoring, but they do have some playmakers that can exploit the Raptors' surprisingly soft defense.
Between the way Jrue Holliday has been playing this season and the fact that Evan Turner is coming off of a 25 point performance against the Boston Celtics, the 76ers have some weapons for sure. As well, they may be enjoying the return of Jason Richardson, who played surprisingly well prior to his ankle injury.
Here are our three keys:
1. New Look Starting 5: In an attempt to alleviate foul trouble from Valanciunas, and get off to better starts, the Toronto Raptors may unveil a new-look starting five that would see Amir Johnson replace the youngster. Two games removed a breakout 18-point performance, Valanciunas managed to rack up five fouls in only 10 minutes against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday. With Valanciunas out, Johnson stepped up in a big way, posting a 18 points (6-7 shooting) and 11 rebounds in 29 minutes. The ironic thing about this swap, as mentioned recently by National Post basketball beat-man Eric Koreen, is that one of the reasons Amir's been continuously brought in off the bench in the past, is because of his own foul-prone ways. Regardless, Valanciunas is a vital part to this team on both sides of the court and the Raptors will have a tough time at winning if he were to sit for extended periods because of foul trouble.
2. Il Mago: Barring Thursday night's 25-point performance, Bargnani has been underwhelming to say the least. After five games, Bargnani is shooting a lowly 36 per cent from the field to go along with a dismal "four rebounds per game" average.
And there's no cutting him some slack tonight based on the opponent.
The 76ers are third in the NBA in points allowed with a mark of 86.8 With Kyle Lowry listed as questionable for the game, the Raptors will need Bargnani to play more like he did against Dallas on offence and score a healthy chunk of their points if they want to have any chance of winning.
Oh...and he probably will need to lock in at least a bit on the defensive end too.
3. Containing Holiday: Jrue Holliday has enjoyed a quick start to what many experts believe to be a breakout season for the former UCLA Bruin. He is averaging 18 points and close to 10 assists a game over the first five games of the season. As I mentioned above, the Raptors are likely to be without Lowry for this match which means that Holliday is going to be defended primarily by Jose Calderon. While Calderon is a manageable point guard, he has a tough time against quicker guards, constantly being beaten off the dribble. This does not bode well for the Raptors as Holliday's younger legs may get the better out of Calderon come tip off.
If that's the case it means rotating over to help Calderon, potentially leaving long-range bombers like Richardson open for easy looks so it's imperative tonight that even if Holiday isn't contained, Toronto's rotations on D are crisp enough to negate too many other open opportunities.