Clinching a playoff berth was a sweet delight for the Toronto Raptors (44-29) who punched their ticket to a 4th straight postseason appearance, but still have much more to accomplish. Bismack Biyombo and Terrence Ross, two players from best Raptors team in franchise history are in town as the Toronto faces the Orlando Magic (27-46). Currently sitting as the East’s fourth seed, the team has taken a considerable step back from last year.
However, the addition of Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker at the deadline has forced the Raptors to play with more grit and physicality. It’s definitely a much needed adjustment as the team is without star point guard Kyle Lowry due to a wrist injury. Toronto’s play as of late has resulted in 7 wins out of the last 10 games including 5 straight victories. The Magic, on the other hand, are in a 3-way tie with the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers for the second worst record in the East.
With that being said, Toronto needs to play with intensity and fire tonight in order to improve their record and possibly move back into the top 3 of the East. Here are Cage’s keys to the game:
Post-All Star numbers claim that the Raptors are #1 in the league when it comes to defending their opponents’ field goal percentage at 43.2%. Numbers from NBA.com also suggest that the Magic are one of the most inefficient offensive teams in the league ranking 30th at 3-point percentage, 29th at field goal percentage at and 27th at points per game with 100.4. This is a huge advantage for the Raptors and is a major key in determining the outcome of tonight’s contest.
Ibaka and Tucker provide the physical dimension that Toronto has lacked for a long time. Both are very capable and physical defenders that can hold their own which has had an obvious impact on this Raptors squad. By playing physical, this may very well force Orlando to the charity stripe which is exactly what the Toronto wants. Orlando is one of the worst free throwing shooting teams in the league, shooting foul shots at a rate of 73.6 per cent. By league standards, that’s not very good and if Toronto plays tough, gritty defense, it’ll help secure a much-needed win.
Play through DeMar
Over the last 4 games, DeMar DeRozan has been averaging 30.5 points per game and has been the focal point for the Raptors on offense all season. With Lowry currently nursing a wrist injury, the Raptors need DeRozan to bring it every night and score in bunches. Ibaka isn’t a bad second option for now, but nobody else on the Raptors can create offense for themselves. If the Raptors utilize their All Star guard properly, this team will be much scarier come playoff time.
X-Factor: Serge Ibaka
Toronto will need to depend on DeMar DeRozan for his offensive arsenal, but it’s Serge Ibaka who will ultimately determine the result of tonight’s game. Ibaka has an ever-improving offensive game and his defense has rarely come into question. The Congolese power forward is also facing his former team, who he didn’t mesh with too well. This should be enough motivation for Ibaka to set the defensive tone for the game and help the Raptors secure the win.