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

Monta Ellis has enjoyed playing the Raptors over the course of his career
Monta Ellis has enjoyed playing the Raptors over the course of his career

After yet another heartbreaking loss, the Raptors are set to face the struggling Golden State Warriors tonight. The HQ's Sean Tepper takes a look at what the Dinos can do to pull off a win.

I could barely contain my anger after watching the Toronto Raptors collapse to the visiting Memphis Grizzlies at the end of fourth quarter in Friday night’s game.

While I had expected the Raptors to lose before tip-off, a part of me could not help but feel teased. I mean come on, they were minutes away from an upset victory, and let it slip away in the game’s closing minutes.

Once my friends and I brought ourselves to turn off the television, we began debating the season that could have been if Bargnani had been healthy.

I never thought I (or any of my friends for that matter) would have ever in a million years said it, but we all agreed that if Bargnani was healthy, that the Raptors would be hovering around .500 and battling for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

While we debated his defensive deficiencies and his lack of rebounding abilities, one of my friends brought up the fact that without the seven-foot Italian, that the Raptors have no immediate and consistent scoring threat.

At first, I heavily disagreed with that statement saying that DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon should have been able to pick up the slack. However the more I think about it, the less I`m inclined to believe it.

Sure, DeRozan has been playing well as of late (he’s had seven games in February with over 20 points), but the fact of the matter is that he has been extremely inconsistent this season, and cannot be relied on to be the team`s top scorer on a nightly basis. Similarly, Calderon enjoyed a streak of five consecutive games with over 14 points, but has cooled down over his past four games.

The season that could have been is much more interesting to think about than the season that is, simply because Toronto has played better as a team and Bargnani may have finally had his breakout season this year.

As the Golden State Warriors roll into town, here are three things to keep an eye on.

1) Shut down Monta Ellis: With Stephen Curry likely out of this one with a foot injury, the Raptors can focus their defensive game plan around on shutting down Monta Ellis. Averaging just over 22 points and five assists this season, Ellis has enjoyed playing the Raptors over the past year, as he scored 55 points on 56 per cent shooting in two games against the Dinos last season. The Raptors are also the second-highest against opponent that Ellis has scored on throughout his six-year career. When Curry is healthy, the Warriors average around 120 points per game, but without him, the Warriors’ high scoring offense has been non-existent. If Demar DeRozan can play aggressive against Ellis and stop him from scoring, the Dinos should have no problem winning this one, especially since they are 7-4 when holding opponents to under 92 points.

2) Bench Play: Although the Raptors lost in heartbreaking fashion to the surging Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night, they’re bench had an outstanding game. Jerryd Bayless led the way for the Dinos with 18 points on 5-9 shooting, and Barbosa and Keliza added 13 and 12 points respectively. More impressive than that, is the fact that the bench as a whole shot 62.5 per cent from the field and accounted for more than half of Toronto’s 99 points. While the Raptors have struggled on offence without Bargnani, Golden State has yielded more than 100 points in five of their last seven games and if Toronto’s bench can pick up right where they left off on Friday night, they should have no trouble scoring points.

3) Grind out a Win: I know that it’s a little cheap to put this as my third key, but despite having lost nine of their last 12 games, the Raptors have played well over the last month. Sure their offense has been lacking and their defence, while improving, is still not up to par, but five of Toronto's past eight losses have been by three points or less. The Dinos have yet to drop a game by more than seven points since playing the Boston Celtics on Feb. 1 and in that span they have played teams such as the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks and San Antonio Spurs. Even Dwane Casey has been quoted as saying that the Raptors have done everything they can be doing to win games, except for actually winning them. If anything, the Raptors deserve to walk out of tonight’s game against Golden State with a W.