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3 in the Key: Raptors vs Knicks Gameday Preview

After the holiday break, the Raptors return to action against the Knicks in New York. New York is still chasing the Raptors and that's all according to the plan.

One of two "young players" the Raptors might be interested in
One of two "young players" the Raptors might be interested in
Rich Schultz

It's currently Day 5 living without Internet or TV as Rogers continues to mess around town.

Which I need to save for stuff like writing NBA game previews.

In that time, the Raptors have been on the road, away from the great Toronto Ice Storm. They continue their road trip adventures today and have amassed enough wins to leap to the top of the Atlantic division.

This should surprise no one as the present Raptors team has more depth and more efficient assets compared to before the Rudy Gay trade.

As the Raptors enter MSG, they do so finding a lot more success than their Andrea Bargnani trade partners. While Steve Novak has not panned out the way they needed, the draft picks they have accumulated will ensure that the Raptors can continue to build their roster in the draft. Bargnani, however, has been pretty much status quo as usual.

Which makes the Kyle Lowry rumours so odd, in my opinion.

The original rumour suggested that the Raptors wanted to get out from under Lowry's productivity so that they could begin their tanking in earnest. Trading for the terrible Raymond Felton contract along with some young players would have suggested to me that the Raptors are desperate. Add to the fact that in my opinion, this deal only works if the rumoured first rounder was thrown into the mix.

Otherwise, i just don't understand how Masai Ujiri even looks at this deal twice.

For one thing, we're taking in the longer contract for a less productive player in Raymond Felton. Kyle Lowry's value, on the other hand should be fairly high. He's in the final year of his contract, he's a productive player, and he's very efficient for the contract he's signed to. Heck, that's the main reason why most of people were fine with acquiring him from Houston in the first place.

Not to mention, this doesn't follow with Masai Ujiri's M.O. of accumulating assets with a longer term plan in mind.

No, this smells of the media attempting to fulfill their own "read" into Masai Ujiri's comments after the Rudy Gay trade. When Masai re-iterated what Tim Leiweke had stated earlier in the summer about not being stuck in the middle, the media jumped on it like it was an indicator that tanking season was open.

Instead, Ujiri has sit on his assets knowing full well that at this point, there is no rush. The Raptors have continually shown that they are not amongst the top 5 worst in the league and that it would take serious dismantling to possibly get themselves there. What Ujiri seems to be acquiring are manageable contracts, draft picks beyond 2014, and role players that may have value to other teams trying to fill a void due to injury.

He will only take back a bad contract to move a "damaged" asset.

Like taking on Steve Novak's contract for Andrea Bargnani for example.

Yes, the Knicks have now begun to wake up and smell what Raptors fans have had to endure for the past seven years. Although Bargnani will sometimes play with passion and mix it up with players like Kevin Garnett, articles like the one from the Wall Street Journal underline the very issue of having Il Mago a major part of your offense.

And against a Raptors team that is now very comfortable on the run, this should be a very exciting game to watch.

Here are the keys to tonight's game.

1) Take advantage of your health - The possible scratches for tonight's game could go as far as removing Carmelo Anthony from the lineup, to returning a handful of the roster to the Knicks including Metta World Peace and Anthony. One thing is for sure, the Raptors have the healthier, more athletic roster and need to test the Knicks every chance they get by being as physical as they can be. Test guys like Metta World Peace, Kenyon Martin, and Tyson Chandler as often as possible.

2) Run and Gun - The Raptors are facing the 24th worst shooting team in the NBA and the 29th worst rebounding team in the NBA. Therefore, guys like DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, and John Salmons should have ample opportunity to take advantage of the fast break.

Rebounding, however, is where the fast breaks will get started and the Raptors' tasks might be tougher. The Knicks have been without Tyson Chandler since early in the season and have seen their rebounding ranking slip into oblivion. With Chandler's return the task will be taller than usual and the Raptors will need a big game from Jonas Valanciunas.

3) Point Guard play - If the Knicks are unwilling to shore up their point guard situation, the Raptors should take full advantage with their new tandem. Although Greivis Vasquez has had a very up and down time with the Raptors, he should have no trouble taking advantage of the Knick's point guard-by-committee. Kyle Lowry, on the other hand, should be licking his chops at the opportunity to school Beno Udrih