1. After clinching their first playoff berth in 6 years on Friday night, the Raptors get a chance tonight to beat the team who took them down in the first round of those 2008 playoffs in the Orlando Magic. For those of you at home keeping track of the revenge factor in this game, here is the list of players from that series who are still on the roster to remember it today:
Toronto: Nobody.
Orlando: Jameer Nelson
Ok, so there probably isn’t going to be a lot of emotion felt on the court today about that series, considering that Jameer Nelson is the only player from either roster whose still with the team. Maybe carrying the kind of slights and lists of people for whom we will boo/seek revenge is reflective of a kind of NBA-fan insecurity that we can let go off.
2. DeMar DeRozan’s shooting. DeMar can’t seem to decide whether or not he’s a mid-range jump shooter or a slasher. Whether or not this is because the team’s offence needs him to create his own shot or it’s because he simply has the green light to put up a jumper whenever he so feels is an important question coming down the stretch. The DeMar that gets to the free throw line 8-10 times a game can help his team win a playoff series. The one that relies on 8-10 mid-range fade away jumpers a game might find himself doing the opposite. DeMar has scored over 22 points a game over his last 13 outings, and was a key 4th quarter contributor in several big wins during that span. But what he has failed to do in a single one of those previous 13 games is shoot at least 50% from the floor even once. He’s averaging a shade under 40% shooting over that period. Those kinds of numbers from a high usage player will simply kill you in the playoffs when teams are locked in on half-court defense. DeMar is going to have to start altering his shot selection, and the team’s offensive game plan will have to reflect and support that.
3. Victor Oladipo’s defense. What you hear from NBA talking heads about Victor Oladipo is that he is this great defensive player. The same has been said about Terrence Ross from the commentators on Raptor’s broadcasts this season. Ross can be a good on-ball defender and his defense has undoubtedly improved this season. But watching these two play today will give you a good opportunity to see the difference between someone who is a really good defender, and someone who is trying to be. Watch Victor Oladipo play defense when his man doesn’t have the ball. Then watch Terrence Ross or DeMar DeRozan do the same. I’m betting that you’ll see Ross get lost from time to time on defense and simply look like he is waiting at others. Victor Oladipo is going to get a couple of steals or turnovers tonight that are the product of him being active and either moving into position on his man or jumping into a lane before the play even starts. See if you can spot the difference.
4. Enjoy penciling in a win against Orlando for these last few weeks of the season while you still can. I wouldn’t be shocked if this Orlando team won 34 games next season and makes a lot of teams sweat out some close, hard fought wins in the process. They’re an extremely young, long and athletic team that is starting to slowly figure out just what their pieces are and how they’re going to fit together. When Oladipo, Afflalo, Vucevic, Nicholson, Harkless, Harris and the lottery pick coming to the Magic this spring all find an identity as a team they are going to be a very tough team to beat on a night-to-night basis.
5. Jonas Valanciunas’ excitement levels. Jonas has been getting more and more engaged with games in the last couple weeks as his involvement on offence has increased along with his playing time. He’s back to celebrating whenever he finally gets a foul call, puffing out his chest after baskets and, the most fun, frantically waving his arms around like an insane person when he’s guarding another team’s centre whose trying to make a pass from the perimeter. Those are my favourite. I’m almost positive that it doesn’t help at all, but damn it, at least he cares. And an excited and emotionally invested JV is putting up a double-double per 25 minutes played over a recent stretch of such enthusiasm. The matador style low-post defensive style of Orlando should hopefully unleash this Valanciunas yet again.
6. A Raptor’s win. Washington put it on Indiana the other night, making it clear that they’re getting their house in order leading into the playoffs. Brooklyn is only 2.5 half games back, and Chicago only 1. The Raptors have clinched the playoffs, yes, but there is a lot of time left to decide whether or not that’s as the 3 seed with home court. These kind of road games are the ones that the Raps simply have to win if they’re going to snag home court. The Raps have been able to deliver that against Orlando as of late, winning the last 6 straight games while holding the Magic to 88 points a game.

  • Roarque

    Is there an obvious strategy here for the Raps? This team has an away record that is exceptional in the league – they win as many games on the road as they do at home. So, would it be better to use the remaining games to rest the weary and injured while giving the ignored a chance to get game ready? Why don’t we find out what a bench of Vasquez, Salmons, Hansbrough/Hayes, Fields and Patterson can do with the basketball. Let them play 30 minutes in Orlando and the chips fall where they may.

    • Joey Dorset

      I’ve been thinking the same thing, but it’s a delicate strategy. They really do need to keep winning and try to keep that 3rd seed, Washington is their best chance to advance. I think the best idea is to run your best guys and hope to get a few consecutive days rest once the seeding is set in another week or two in advance of the playoffs.

      • Jerry Garcia

        Fields time.!!

  • FREEJV

    must win game.

  • jakdripr

    Were it not for who our next 3 games are against I wouldn’t be that worried about this game. But considering we face the Heat, Rockets and Pacers next we’d best take care of business. Knowing our team though we’ll either fall behind early and have to make a fourth quarter comeback or go ahead early and let them back in the fourth.

    • Roarque

      Pacers are 6-4 lately as they try some new stuff like getting Bynum into their line-up ( cancer scare, cancer scare) and losing to folks like NY and Memphis. They have returned to Earth ( temporarily?).
      Heat should be interesting – preview of the semis 😉

      • jakdripr

        Good point, upon giving it some thought I can realistically see us going 2-1 in that stretch. The Pacers are struggling and we beat them when they weren’t and I can see us beating the Rockets(I think they’ll be on the second night of a back-to-back). I’ll write off the Miami game as an L since we just can’t seem to beat them(although our last game was pretty darn close).

        • why

          As our bench right now is quite weak (and hope I’m wrong) I don’t see this as likely unless PP is back and playing at a fairly high level or Hansbrough or Novak have their games of the year.

  • Rap fan 2

    Some great points made. With Demar, he does a great job of fishing the opponent for a foul call and getting to the free throw line. But he’s also got to focus on getting into his shooting sweets spots where his shot is almost guaranteed to go in every single time. Perhaps instead of practicing his shooting with no one in front of him he should be practicing his shots with a good defender in his face most of the time now. Another area for growth I think Demar can improve on is his ball handling skills. It’s done wonders for Terrence Ross who worked on this in the off season. With better ball handling skills Demar will be in able to position himself to get to his sweet spots and make more clutch shots. One other thing this year is that Demar is playing more of the three spot and going up against stronger players. So he’s got to get stronger without getting slower and avoiding injuries. It’s a balancing act here. This is where the team needs to hire the best sports science experts and support staff comes into play. Strength will help Demar become more proficient when attacking the rim.

  • Wickedest

    Things to watch for: Casey line up 4 minutes left in the 4th qtr lol

  • ckh26

    Always love it when we beat Boston. Really LOVED it when we closed out that win late and from behind. I know it was against Boston but you start somewhere. Playoff games are going to be close and this is an area where we need to be better, closing out games. We did it against Boston. See if we can do this a couple more times. Don’t think thats going to be the case tonite against an Orlando team playing out the string.

    LIke the idea Roarque puts out there on getting everyone into the games to see what they can do and to get everyone game ready. Provide some level of rest to the key guys.. get the bench ready to play the intense minutes that are coming by playing longer than they normally do…. Oh yeah.. keep loading up the W’s in the Win Loss columns.

  • Pice

    How many Pats will there be in this game?

  • Mexiballer

    Demar looks tired to me. Hell say that he isnt but you can see it in his jump shot and his over all energy level. He just doesnt have the legs or the bounce that he had earlier in the season. Does anyone know where he currently ranks in the league in terms of minutes played?

    • Antoine Rose

      top 5 for sure

    • WhiteVegas

      DD is 3rd in MPG behind Carmelo and Durant.

      • Mexiballer

        Thanks.

    • Abused Raptors Fan

      Basketball-reference.com has a leaders board on their home page if you want to check those kinds of stats yourself

      • Mexiballer

        Thanks. I will for sure.

  • abdeezy

    im i the only raptors fan who thinks DD is the worst perimeter defender in the nba. man cant guard an infant

    • DDayLewis

      Yes, you’re the only one.

      • Louvens Remy

        he’s not the worst but he’s freaking brutal. He almost seems like he doesn’t care that much about defence. He could be a pretty good defender with a bit more effort. That’s 70% of defence.

  • Antoine Rose

    please tell me patty pat is back

  • Louvens Remy

    Terry Ross needs to handle the ball more. Fields needs to play over Johnny Fish.

  • Prayygu

    LANDRY FIELDS WITH THE THROWDOWN. Bench coming up huge in the 2nd quarter for the Raps 😀

  • asifyouknow

    CASEY most be resting his bench…..lol