A win tonight over the Atlanta Hawks would have the Toronto Raptors sitting with a 17 and 29 record, with 36 games left in the 2012-13 season.
The club would likely be about five games back of the final playoff spot in the East, about the same spot they've sat for the last few weeks, unable to gain ground on a Boston Celtics team that's hardly been stellar in their own right.
In fact after a 7 and 3 stretch bridging 2012 and 2013, the club's been running the inverse trend of late, losing seven of its last 10 matches, and with Toronto's next five games against the Hawks, Clippers, Heat, Celtics and Pacers, we could be in for another big winless streak, essentially killing the season for good.
(A season that was on life support since late November I'll add.)
Based on my off-season prognostications, I felt January would be the month the club turned it around, finishing with a 9 and 6 record, putting the Raptors at 19 and 27 to start February.
However as noted, even with a win tonight, the team is two wins behind that pace.
Perhaps this is why the Rudy Gay trade talk has been pushed back to the forefront. Bryan Colangelo may feel that he needs to do something as right now, the Dinos are not only en route to another playoff-less finale, but their .356 win percentage is barely an improvement over last season's .348 mark.
To say that this season hasn't unfolded as BC and co. had planned would be putting it mildly.
But is Rudy Gay the answer?
I'm going to save this full discussion for another day, but unless you're shipping out Andrea Bargnani and maybe even DeMar DeRozan (a bad fit next to Gay) in the process, I'm not sure a 41 per cent shooting wing, with a below-league average PER, with about $37M left on his contract over the next two years...is a great option.
Now if Toronto could be sure that Josh Smith would re-sign with them after this season...
Yes, just like Rudy Gay, Josh Smith appears to be bound for another team prior to the NBA's trade deadline however as great of a fit his skillset would be for the Raptors at the 3 spot, it's hard to see any such deal going down.
Much like the Raptors though, the Hawks are in a bit of a strange situation too as they started off as one of the league's surprise teams, but have recently come back down to earth, playing .500 ball over their last 10. What looked to be a potential playoff run now has lost some luster thanks to a season-ending injury to key reserve Lou Williams, and the continuing Josh Smith vs Larry Drew drama. Hawks' GM Danny Ferry is likely going through many of the same thoughts as Bryan Colangelo then; Ferry looking to get some value from Josh Smith, a free-agent this summer, Colangelo looking to do the same with Jose Calderon, while exploring a myriad of other trade options.
However neither the Raps nor Hawks can worry about trade talk as they face off tonight in the ATL. Here are our three keys to a Raptors' win:
1) Dig in on D. The Raptors and Hawks have similar offensive efficiency marks so this one will likely be won on the defensive end of the court. Atlanta has a top 10 defence in terms of defensive efficiency, able to play big or small and create havoc with pests like Jeff Teague, and lock-down stoppers like Josh Smith. Smith was recently named the league's top perimeter defender so far this season by ESPN.com, so the Raps' wings could be in for a long night.
2) Get on the Glass. Despite top-notch rebounders like Smith and Al Horford, the Hawks sport one of the lower rebound rates in the league, a shade above Toronto at 48.5. Until ZaZa Pachulia enters the game, Atlanta doesn't sport the beefiest of big men up front, so unlike the Andrew Bogut/David Lee fiasco Monday night, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson may be able to both keep the Hawks' bigs at bay, and do some damage of their own on the offensive glass. (Atlanta's offensive rebounding rate is fifth-worst in the league.)
3) Get in the Passing Lanes. While this ties into the first point, I wanted to call it out separately. The Hawks have the league's second-best assist ratio meaning on offense, the ball moves and the club's scoring comes from a multitude of options. This needs to be disrupted tonight so the Raps' back-court needs to be extremely aggressive on the perimeter, while Toronto's bigs need to be bumping cutters and making sure Atlanta doesn't get easy looks in close.
The Hawks already sport one of the league's highest turnover marks so if the Raps can force a few more and get out in transition, this would go a long ways towards getting a W.