Gameday: Raptors vs Sixers – Jan. 8/10

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It took 28 games, and an injury that sidelined Calderon for a couple weeks, but the Raptors have finally come together. 7-1 in their last 8 games and we have ourselves a team that has a chance to climb above .500 for the first time since Nov. 13, a span of 27 games that took years off of all our lives.

2010 has us 2-1 against teams, who if the playoffs started today, would have home-court advantage. If that doesn’t lend credibility to the 5 game winning streak they went on in December against weaker opponents, then I don’t know what does. Even the most cynical and pessimistic of us all (I’m mostly talking about myself here) have our chins up off the ground with pride.

This recent 7-1 stretch has been an about face for this organization defensively. After surrendering 108.6 points a game (a  defense which was referred to as the worst in NBA history), our boys have tightened their laces and dug deep, to only give up a stingy 92.6 points. That sort of defense takes the pressure off your offense and allows you to let the game to come to you. This is exactly what we have been seeing from this lot.

Against Orlando, we saw crisp rotations and excellent man defense in the paint, especially by Bargnani on Howard. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the box score, but Howard was kept in check – the guy only had 10 shot attempts from the floor. Had it not been for that 4th quarter collapse of sorts (35 points surrendered), the Raptors would have kept the Magic around 95 points for the game.

Against Philly, we will need more of the same, especially from Bargnani. Dalembert is coming off a ridiculous 20/20 game against the Wizards. He’s always given us big problems under the rim with his size and rebounding. In fact, Philly’s entire front line consists of young, athletic bigs who keep coming in waves. Bosh/Bargnani/Johnson will need to make a concerted effort on the boards. I know I keep saying this, but if we take away their second chance attempts, it will make it that much harder for them to score.

What will be crucial for the Raptors will be the play of Calderon off the bench. He had a phenomenal game against the Magic, penetrating and kicking out to open shooters on the perimeter, circa 2007 where he was at his most effective. I actually haven’t seen that from him all season, as he looked a bit off/timid before he was out for a couple weeks. Whatever was going on with him, I don’t care, our boy is back – hopefully.

This will be our first look at Iverson in two years, and I must say, I’m pretty excited. His play of late has been pretty solid. Interestingly enough, over the last 5 games, the Sixers have lost when Iverson hasn’t reached double digits in points. The guy has clearly lost a step, but he’s crafty, so DeRozan/Weems/Belinelli will have to keep him on him off screens and through traffic. This should actually be a matchup where our SG by committee should win. Athletically, we should give Philly SG’s fits all night.

The line has Philly at -1.5, with the over/under at 196, but after that collapse to the Wizards, I can’t see the Sixers having a whole lot in them, even at home. Raptors take this bad boy 98-92, and climb 1 game over .500 for the first time in two months.

Joint us tonight at the Sports Center Cafe for Raptor Fan Fridays. Some good times, good food, good beverages and hopefully a good win. TGIF.

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