The Raptors have another chance to improve their record to .500 (18-18) tonight in Orlando. With 6 wins in their last 7 games, the last one being a big win over the Spurs, it’s hard not to get a bit excited regardless of who we beat to get here. At the end of the day, you have to sit back and consider that to be a middle of the pack, low playoff seed good team in this league:

  • You have to beat the teams who are worse then you
  • You have to compete and beat at least half the teams who are the same level as you
  • And you have to steal a game or two from the teams who are better then you.

After a horrific start to the season, this is the path the Raptors are on, and realistically, it is the only one we should have expected at this point in time. Tonight, the Raptors are facing the third scenario above: they have a realistic opportunity to steal against a team who is better than them. The Magic are arguably the deepest team in the league. Twice so far this season, we have lost games to them where an unsung role player has stepped up and been the deciding factor in the game (Reddick, Anderson, Barnes).

So I’m calling this a realistic steal because the Magic are on the second night of a back-to-back, and a two game losing streak (losses to Chicago and Indiana). The Raptors are well rested, and have been in Orlando a couple days, so it is hard to imagine that they could lose two season season series against Eastern Conference teams in the same week (Boston is 2-0 against us).

With Calderon slated  to return tonight, the point guard controversy will be in full swing, I know this because I’m feeding the fire right now. With Jack playing so well in Jose’s absence, and Jose probably not being 100% healthy (if recent history holds true), our boy will be coming off the bench for at least this game. I’d like to make one thing clear: the Raptors are NOT better with Jose out of the lineup. When he is healthy, he is a top 15 point guard in the league. However, I do contend that if the Jack/Banks duo can hold it down, we have glaring needs at the wing that can be addressed by trading Calderon for the right piece (notice how I said the right piece).

The match-up sucks for the Raptors every way you slice it. With Howard commanding so much attention in the paint, it doesn’t matter which of Bosh or Bargnani (usually Bosh) covers him – the other (usually Bargnani) will be sent over for the double, then all that is left is for Howard to kick it out to one of the shooters (usually Lewis, since Bargnani is doubling) and make us pay for playing into their hands (usually because our rotations suck).

That was what usually has happened, but the Raptors have gelled a bit over the last 7 games and are communicating more. We have seen some pretty impressive games where man defense was tight, rotations were crisp, and folks were talking. They will need a lot of that tonight.

IMHO, you have to stay at home with this Magic team. If Howard can create room for his shooters (list everyone else in the top 9 of the rotation), then there will be hell to pay. Over the first two games this season, the Magic have shot 31-62 from behind the arc (with Lewis absent from that first contest) against the Raptors, easily the stat that stands out the most, and is the reason we’ve lost by a combined 28pts.

I like Jack manning up Nelson to start the game, he will get bumped more then when Calderon is on him. This wont shut Jameer down, but it will make it that much harder for him to run the offense. Telling of this two game losing streak is VC’s performance over the stretch: 7pts 3rebs 2ast on 5-30 shooting (zero 3′s) from the floor. DeRozan/Weems/Belinelli will have to keep Carter out of the paint, and off the line. He has been shooting terribly from the floor, so they can’t let him find his rhythm – all jumpers, no layups, let’s do it 80′s style.

I’m actually thinking a win tonight for the Raptors. The Magic are tired, and playing pretty bad over the last two games. The Raptors are fresh and can distance themselves a bit from Charlotte and Milwaukee in the standings with a win. The line wasn’t posted at time of publishing this, but you can bet it will be tight one. Raptors grind out a tight one tonight, 97-91 with Bargnani leading the way (I believe).

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