Game 65 Preview – Raptors
headin’ to Denver.
With 18 games left in the 2007-2008 regular season, the Raptors
(34-30) are heading to Denver to face off against Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony’s Nuggets (38-26). However what would normally be a reunion between 2003 draft-mates Anthony and Toronto’s Chris Bosh
is derailed, as Bosh
has been nursing a knee injury for the past week and is expected to miss a few more games yet. The Raptors
have struggled without their franchise player, losing 6 out of the 8 games without him, 5 of those losses coming by double digits.
Surprisingly the biggest struggle the Raptors
have faced is not on the offense end, where they would be expected to miss Bosh’s 22.6 points per game. The team has managed to maintain a similar offensive output and have scored over 100 points in 6 of the 8 games. Rather the problem has been more defensively. The Raptors
are giving up over 108 points per game over the last 8, which juxtaposed with the team’s season average (97 points per game), is startling. While Bosh
has proven to be an adequate defender, and while the pace of the team has slightly increased with the return of back-up point guard TJ Ford, there is no excuse for such a letdown over the past few weeks. Furthermore, what has plagued the Raptors
over their cold streak is a lack of consistency in particular areas. Against the Charlotte a few weeks ago they were annihilated on the glass, while against the Los Angeles Lakers they rebounded well but let the opposition score 20 3 point shots. Against Indiana they were beat repeatedly on the dribble, while against the Golden State Warriors they fell down 20 early because of turning the ball over. To truly be successful in the NBA you need fundamental consistency game to game, and the Raptors
have recently suffered from a lack of it.
Competitive on the West Coast swing, but no rewards yet
Despite these problems, the Raptors
have managed to be competitive on the first 2 games of their 5 game West Coast swing, closing to within a couple points late against both Los Angeles and actually taking a small lead against Golden State, only to eventually lose both games. While their competitiveness without Bosh
is admirable, the team must learn to spread the ball better in the 4th quarter and utilize all their options. Anthony Parker, the team’s hottest player as of late, had racked up 21 and 22 points through the first 3 quarters of both games, only to be denied a single shot attempt from that point on in either game. Andrea Bargnani, who has been playing well in Bosh’s absence, has also been denied many attempts in the crunch-time of games. On the flipside, TJ Ford respectively attempted 12 and 10 shots in each final quarter. In order to win the game if it is close in the 4th quarter tonight, Parker and Bargnani
will need more touches.
In the other corner…
Despite having 4 more wins than the playoff-bound Raptors, because of a large East-West record disparity, the Nuggets are on the outside of the West playoff race looking in. Currently 2 games behind the Golden State Warriors, nearly every game from this point on is must-win for Denver, especially at home against the injured team like the Raptors. For that reason, Toronto should see this game as one where they have nothing to lose, while the pressure lies completley on the opponent. The Nuggets missing the playoffs would be seen as a monumental disaster for the team, who after acquiring Allen Iverson last year and having a very impressive 10-1 month of April to end their season, had aspirations of competing for a title with the star, let alone make the playoffs.
The Nuggets run a very up-tempo offense centered on Iverson and Anthony’s scoring ability, expect the two to carry most of the offensive load. Defensive player of the year Marcus Camby should also present an issue as one of the league’s strongest rebounding centers and shot blockers. It will likely be difficult to stop Iverson and Anthony from scoring their share of points, however if the Raptors
can keep the rest of the Nuggets’ talented lineup off the score-sheet, they can put themselves in a position to win the game. Linas’ Kleiza played well against the Raptors
in their meetings last year, expect him to be an X-factor of sorts for the game.
Keys to the game…
1. 48 minutes of defensive pressure – A must against a tough team on the road, there is no room for soft pressure with Bosh
out of the lineup.
2. Point guards spreading the wealth – Ford and Calderon
have been most effective when getting the team involved rather than scoring themselves, to win the Raptors
need a collective effort from all the options on the floor.
3. Expose the wing – The Nuggets have defensive issues in the 1, 2, and 3 positions. The Raptors
should look to attack these weaknesses and create better shot oppurtunities through penetration.
Here's hoping for some salami and cheese tonight!