Remember the Gauntlet from the old American Gladiators show from the ’90′s? I think there was a newer version but I’m not sure it had it. Well, if you recall, it’s like a narrow alleyway that’s populated with about half a dozen menacing, juiced-up meatheads that competitors had to run through. That’s how this next stretch of games feels from the Raptors’ perspective. There’s really nowhere to run, you know it’s coming, and you just hope the gladiators have enough mercy on you to let you eventually crawl your way through. 7 of the next 8 games are against Western Conference opponents on the road, and all, I mean ALL of them are decent teams. Even the Clippers are dangerous this year. If the Raptors can somehow run the gauntlet with minimal damage, say 3 wins out of these 7, it would be considered a success.

It all starts with Chris Paul , far and away the best PG in league (sorry Rajon, Deron, Steve) licking his lips as Jose and Co. drop into town. Chris is a little jacked up from his recent run-in with the aforementioned Rondo, and who needs a punching bag or even a 2 dollar stress ball when you have the Spanish Sieve right in front of you to take out your frustrations on. Jose was asked at practice this morning about playing against the likes of Paul, Jason Kidd and Tony Parker. This is what he had to say:

Like I always say, it’s team defense. In the NBA nobody plays one-on-one, guys play pick ‘n roll or two man games, so the whole team’s got to rotate on shooters, it’s team defense every time. We have to keep working at that, I think we’re doing a better job. Sometimes they score 40 points because other guys didn’t get involved. Sometimes you got to give something like that up. [The defense against Detroit] was good in the last five minutes. Everybody was talking , helping each other, we were missing that in the first and some periods in the third quarter. We got to do it for 48 minutes. I don’t know but sometimes we make mistakes, we relax. But the last five minutes were good. You knew who you help was, it was good.

Sheet, nobody plays one-on-one in the NBA? Must have missed the memo. You can read more of what Jose had to say here.

Then there’s Jarret Jack, coming off his best game as a Raptor. Jack is starting to do some of the things that Raptor Nation wants Calderon to do. Let’s see how this plays out as Jack becomes more and more comfortable with his teammates. I still think, despite all politically correct answers and statement lurks a competitive individual who’s looking out for the starter’s job. He isn’t a prototypical starting PG in this league, but a few more games like this where Jack leads a charge with the second unit, and then you have a mini-controversy. This is good though, and probably one of the reasons as to why BC acquired a quality backup PG…to give Calderon that slightest nudge that he’s got to bring it every night otherwise there is someone perfectly capable of taking away some of his minutes.

Well, it will have to be about team defense now won’t it? Antoine Wright played more minutes than Demar Derozan did last game against Detroit, and you can bet that trend will continue. He’s just come from the Western Conference and had success defending against most of these teams, and defense is already looking to be an issue early on this season. So you plug him in for more minutes, and you know what you’re going to get from Turk, which is smart but not necessarily great defense. Then the last line of defense will be the Killer B’s, who earned that monicker on Wednesday.

Especially Andrea Bargnani, with a couple of emphatic blocks and a career high 12 rebounds, along with his usual offensive outburst. Really liked what I saw from Bargs. It feels like he knows he can score in this league, and now he wants to try to put it all together. The first couple games he was trying to get his rhythm back, and hopefully, Wednesday was the game he decided to turn it up a notch. Or it was just sheer mathematical coincidence and it will never happen again. I think it may be more of the former. Let’s hold hands and pray that it is. Emeka Okafor and David West are an effective tandem, much better than anything Detroit had to offer.

Offensively, Turk should mess with Julian Wright or Peja, who is on his last legs it seems. Let’s have him be the point of attack and have Antoine and Calderon free up for good looks. Let’s make good use of our effective second unit to wear out a team that isn’t terribly deep. There starters play a ton of minutes, so try to wear ‘em out. Lastly, don’t collapse every time in post-up situations, because this is a team that can stroke it. Easier said than done, of course.

For those who can’t wait for the real game, Visser‘s simulation says we ended on a massive run to close things off. I know it’s just a sim but I already feel like we have a better chance. Seriously.

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