Raptors-Magic: 6 Things to Watch For

6 things to watch for as the Raptors look to pick up another win away from home at the Amway Center

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.

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