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Toronto Raptors San Antonio Spurs January 197, 20110

Warning: This is the worst thing I’ve ever written in my life. Much like Kleiza, I didn’t give it 100%.

It’s really getting hard to write these pre-games with any level of predictability. The Raptors roll-over to the Wizards, then two nights later, they fight tooth in nail against a better Hornets team. Could it be that these guys play up to their competition much like the Spurs play down to theirs? Also, we (I do anyways) keep saying that this team doesn’t have much talent, but when you just take a second look, there is a bit; it’s just that the team isn’t very well constructed. They are a bunch of athletic guys, who can ball, who’ve just been thrown together and told to play nice.

While I ate some of my words about the match-ups from the Hornets game, each of Paul, West and Okafor played crucial roles in the tight win. Okafor and West especially, who combined for 26 rebounds with both grabbing more offensive rebounds than the entire Raptors team – 16. Whatever…

I checked in with Andrew McNeill from the aptly named Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell about the team and the game tonight:

This Spurs are my gold-standard for how a franchise should be run. Unlike the Celtics/Lakers/Mavs, the Spurs compete while being fiscally responsible. This question is a bit lame, but what is it like to be a fan of this team?
A lot of times, you’re going through your head or discussing / arguing with someone about something in particular that you think the team should do. Whether it be trading for someone to defend the rim or play Tiago Splitter more, etc, nothing’s perfect so it’s natural to think that. But in the end, and oftentimes the discussions in the comments end this way too, you just shrug and say, “you know what, the front office knows what they’re doing.” I get that feeling that fans of a lot of other franchises don’t enjoy the same luxury.

International players sometimes take a bit longer to acclimate themselves to the NBA. After getting signed to a lot of fanfare, Splitter has seen a steady decline in minutes and production since the season started. Is this a matter of not enough minutes, others stepping up, or Tiago learning to play in Pops system?
Tiago is becoming one of my favorite things to write about, just because it’s coming kind of easy with his lack of playing time. Long story short, he played a full season last year in Spain and won the title, had a couple of weeks off and went on tour with Brazil ahead of the FIBA World Championships and then played in Turkey. He picked up an injury training for the World Championships and then another during the tournament. After a couple of weeks off he was in San Antonio for training camp and picked up yet another small injury. This one forced him to miss the vast majority of training camp and all of preseason. With so little practice time in the NBA, especially for veteran teams like the Spurs, he had very little opportunity to learn Pop’s system. And if we learned anything from Richard Jefferson last year — and, to a lesser extent, Antonio McDyess (an underrated story is how much improvement Dice has shown this season) — it’s that Pop’s system takes some time to learn. Basically, he’s a good sport and he’ll be a good rotation player, but it might not be until next season.

Career low in minutes played for Duncan, points and rebounds, yet the Spurs are the best team in the league. Do tell?
There are a number of factors for Duncan’s career lows. The Spurs always try to limit Duncan’s minutes and they’ve been able to do it this season by blowing teams out. Duncan has been able to sit out a significant chunk of the team’s fourth quarters this season while not missing a game. Offensively, the Spurs don’t run everything through Duncan in the post. The offense is predicated on ball movement and lots and lots of pick-and-rolls with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. But if they need to, they can still go to Duncan in the post and get a basket. Defensively, he’s still a rock. And about a slow as one when it comes to defending the pick-and-roll. But he still knows the defense and communicates with the defenders in front of him as good as any player in the league.

The Spurs have dropped a few games to the Raptors over the years, splitting the last two season series (I just wanted to throw that in). How do the Spurs match-up with the Raptors, and what will they have to do to win the game?
I’ll be completely honest and tell you that I can’t remember if I’ve caught a Raptors game at all this season. The Spurs have a habit of playing down to their opponents, but that hasn’t been as much of a problem this season… other than that Clipper game. Although, with the way the Clippers have looked lately that doesn’t seem as bad, and it was the second night of a back-to-back. Anyway, I digress. If the Spurs show up with decent energy early in the game, not the way they started against the Nuggets on Sunday, and don’t go completely cold from 3-point range, I fully expect them to beat the Raptors comfortable and give Tim Duncan another fourth quarter off.

Injuries

Toronto
Reggie Evans – Angry Birds Steez: Finished each level with 3-stars
Leandro Barbosa – She’s keeping him company while he gets better
Peja Stojakovic – Favourite Drink: Lady Saffron from Black Hoof cafe
Sonny Weems – Most expensive tweet c/o EverythingBlaxx
Linas Kleiza – Hope he’s ok, but glad Wright’s getting his minutes

San Antonio
Matt Bonner – Day to day

Match-ups

Point Guard
For Jose, this is the week from hell; Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Nelson/Arenas in the span of five days. Each is a totally different kind of player that poses his own set of problems. Against Paul, Calderon turned in a pretty gutsy performance if you ask me. Keeping Chris to 6 points is an achievement onto it’s own; doing that while dropping 13 dimes and keeping the game within reach is damn good. What really hurt Jose was 7 turnovers on 13 assists; especially when you consider Paul had 0tos  on 11ast.

Parker is also a devastating player off the dribble. Containing him off the hi-screen may prove to be impossible since he’s such a triple-threat (shoot, pass and drive) once he turns that corner. Expect the Raptors to get pick-n-rolled to death, and Triano to call a zone every so often to counter. Maybe he wont, maybe he will jedi mind trick them into thinking a zone is coming, when it doesn’t, forcing them to execute some weird variation of their offense that sputters and fails. Maybe it wont matter.

Jose has proven that he can run with the elite point guards in the league, the question has always been how hard is he going to make them work on both ends of the floor. I don’t mind Parker doing 20pts 11ast if Jose produces his share on offense and contests on defense.
Edge: Spurs

Shooting Guard
Again, another solid kool-aid outing for DeRozan who seems to have reduced the number of bad games between the good ones. Consistency is the key with the young one, and he’s held up his end of the bargain for the most part. Listen, I like the kid, but it just feel that his game is a little too one-dimensional at the moment; a luxury we cant afford him considering Bargnani should be the only person on the Raptors with that that role.

Much like Parker, Ginobili is also a triple threat on offense, but is truly unlike anyone DeRozan’s played all season. He is a very crafty, unorthodox offensive player that attacks from every spot on the floor. Defensively, he is all over the place and will make DeRozan work on both ends of the floor. Would be nice if DeMar can return that favour.
Edge: Spurs

Small Forward
I held onto Richard Jefferson for far too long in my fantasy draft. It’s definitely cost me some points in my match-ups. With Kleiza out (or he could return as mysteriously as he got injured), Wright will get the chance to shine from the tip; hopefully. You never know with Triano, really, you don’t. With Julian on the prowl, we can rest assured that Jefferson wont be sticking any wide open shats from behind the arc, he’s going to have to work for his baskets. Neither will be breaking out to lead their team to a win, but both will provide key moments.
Edge: Even

Front Court
I’m lumping PF/C together because of all the cross-pollination of potential match-ups. The Spurs will field a rotation of Tim Duncan, Antonio McDyess, Matt Bonner, Dajuan Blair and Tiago Splitter. There is a little bit of absolutely everything you could want in a front court that is the 3rd best in the league after Boston and LA, IMHO of course.

The Raptors will need an encore from the performance Ed Davis and Amir Johnson had against the Hornets, but I think they deliver the goods. They both hit the ground running and are becoming quite a formidable duo. The two accounted for almost half the Raptors rebounding, and all the heart in the paint. Seriously, had they not pulled more than their weight, the game wouldn’t have been close.

After a very solid stretch, Bargnani was pretty brutal. How bad? Calderon out-rebounded the guy. For the Raptors to have any chance at winning tonight, he has to put up at least 24, and get the Spurs bigs in foul trouble; at least enough to make them think twice about defending a penetrating DeRozan/Calderon aggressively.
Edge: Even

Keys to the Game

Seriously, I don’t know where to start; the Spurs are 5th in the league in points scored, 7th in rebounding, 5th in assists and 12th in defense.  I guess the key will be to defend hard, crash the boards, challenge passing lanes and hit every single shot you take.

The Line

The gamblers have the Spurs comfortably taking this by 11, with an over/under of 203.5. Thankfully, it’s Wednesday, so you can flip back and forth between the game and Dragons Den to keep occupied.