The Toronto Raptors (8-19) seek their fifth-straight win as they host the Orlando Magic in one of the hottest games in the Eastern Conference tonight.
That opening statement seems too good to be true, but yes indeed, this match-up tonight contains two teams enjoying unpredictable four-game winning streaks. The inspired play coming from the Andrea Bargnani/ Kyle Lowry-less Raptors has them playing their best basketball of the season.
After inching out a 97-91 win against the Detroit Pistons in a back-and-forth game, Toronto comes into tonight's match ready to try and notch another victory. Against Detroit, the Raps managed to capitalize on the strong play of not only Jose Calderon's 17 assists and DeMar DeRozan's 23 points, but through the likes of Alan Anderson, who's averaged 19.3 points off the bench in the last three games.
Although consistent rebounding remains a concern for the Dinos bigs, the emergence of a reliable Ed Davis and Amir Johnson has become an immediate bright spot in the frontcourt going forward.
The streaking Magic (12-13) will be without their starting power forward, "Big Baby" Glen Davis for this match-up, who's averaged a team best-tying 16 points and 7.9 rebounds throughout the first half of the season so far. The Magic rank 26th in the league with 92.8 points per game but have improved their tally of late, averaging 99.5 throughout their past four.
With Davis out of the line up, the Raps will have to look forward to containing Josh McRoberts, Gustavo Ayon and the rookie out of Mississauga, Ontario, Andrew Nicholson, on the glass tonight. Seeing as opponents' strong power forward play has been one of the common kryptonites to the Raps' so far this campaign, tonight's match-up inside shouldn't cause too many problems.
As the Dinos haven't witnessed an onslaught behind the arc from their opponents throughout the past four games, J.J. Redick must be on trigger alert tonight, as he's averaged 16.3 pts per game while going 13 for 26 from deep during the team's run.
Other considerations include the battle at the point between Calderon and Jameer Nelson, as well as the productivity of Amir Johnson's considering his "Day-to-Day" status.
Also, the Mayan apocalypse was false.
Here are the three keys for pulling off a fifth-consecutive W:
1) Continue Consistent Teamwork: Post game Wednesday night, head coach Dwane Casey went on to credit team work, "We're believing we can win, we're trusting each other, we're pulling for each other." Timing is essential for success throughout long stretches, and it seems as though the Raps' have picked up their stride at the right time, with the schedule easing up right before the Christmas break. Hearing that quote from Casey would've seemed imaginary a few weeks back, but the trust and unselfishness that this squad is playing with right now has provided nothing short of positive progression.
2) Limit Opportunities behind the Arc: With interior keys such as Glen Davis out of the line up tonight, checking and limiting the opportunities of Arron Afflalo & J.J. Redick from deep will play a factor in determining who wins the battle this evening. Terrence Ross, Linas Kleiza, DeRozan & Anderson should carry the load in containing what I like to call the "Magic Jackers" as they, just like their team's play as of late, can be fairly streaky.
3) Jose Calderon: Once again, the flow of the Dinos' offense runs through the creativity and production of Calderon. He's been huge throughout this winning streak; so much so that Casey has went on to state that seeing Lowry return to the lineup off of the bench isn't "inconceivable."
Oh boy. Here we go again.
Needless to say, Calderon has done a fantastic job anchoring Toronto's offense, to the point where not having him on the court has provided some issues on both ends at times. The consistent play of Calderon has enabled DeRozan to free himself up in a rotation that has been providing from each position, simplifying his job to a tee. Consistency has played in favor of the Raps' at home as of late and if they can continue to do that, it'll be tough for the Magic to break the Dino's recent streak.