Despite a recent winning streak that saw the Raptors win eight of 10 games, the team has struggled in their last two outings, suffering consecutive losses heading into tonight's contest with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Tough losses to the Kings and Thunder have caused the Raptors to fall to 11th in the Eastern Conference and 5. 5 back of the eight spot. Tonight's game against the 76ers though, will be an opportunity for the Raptors to get a victory and get back on track with winnable games against the Bobcats and Bucks later on this week.
The 76ers have also had their share of struggles of late, having lost four straight games. Like the Raptors earlier this season, the 76ers have been a victim of a tough schedule. Nine of their last 11 opponents have been above .500 and the Sixers have gone 3- 8 during that stretch. This is an important game for both teams.
As always, here are the three keys to the game:
1) Beware of the Bounce-back game:
The 76ers are coming off of a blowout loss at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets last night and should be motivated to come out and get a win against a team they know they can beat. This is something that the Raptors are going to have to anticipate.
Fortunately, this is something that Dwane Casey has already prepared his team for. "You can't really tell anything (from the game last night), you can't tell how good Philly is just because, you know, its one of those nights they had," Casey said at shootaround this morning. "Believe me, I look forward to a 76er team to come in here mad, ready to attack and play and exemplify (coach) Doug Collins. Last night's game wasn't the typical 76er team. We understand that. I conveyed that to our team that you cant take anything from that game."
2) Contain Jrue Holiday:
Holiday is having a career year --his 18.9 points per game and 8.5 assists per game are the best of his four-year career -- and he has finally been handed the reins of the 76ers offense. Given the trouble that Jose Calderon has had with quicker point guards in the past, Holiday could be in for a big night. Holiday's ability to get to the rim and create for others as well as score should be the Raptors' primary concern .
"I think he's an All-Star. I think the kid is playing like an All-Star, scoring like an all-star, leading his team as an All-Star," Casey said about the 76er point guard. "He is playing big-time basketball. We gotta do an impeccable job of keeping him out of the paint and make sure we control him in transition and in half court play. If not, he will just pick us apart. He got started and nobody else joined the party last night but I'm sure tonight they will."
3) Take Advantage of the Small Lineup:
The last time these two teams played, the 76ers opted to go small with his lineups and it was the Raptors that were forced to adjust. This time around, Dwane Casey has more players at his disposal -- including Landry Fields -- and has a few small lineups that he is more comfortable using. If he can take advantage of the versatility of players like Alan Anderson and Landry Fields, then the Dinos should match up much better with the 76ers.
In a game like this, utilizing Landry Fields at the four could be extremely important for the Raptors.
"There's just so many intangibles that you don't see in the boxscore that Landry brings to the team that (are) invaluable," Casey said. "I love him, we need him on the court as much as possible just because I think his approach to the game is the way we want to play."
Fields has taken his share of criticism this season, but Casey's confidence in the swingman hasn't wavered.
"He's been unbelievable, and to his credit and to his professionalism he has played out of position (at the) 3 and the 4," Casey continued. "He is a tough guy, his energy is infectious so he is given us a lot off of the bench (in) the way he plays and his defense is as good as we have."