Fresh off another disappointing road loss, the Toronto Raptors return to the Air Canada Centre Saturday night and host the Utah Jazz.
Toronto (2-4) has dropped three straight contests while the Jazz (0-6) have yet to reach the W column.
The timing and match-up couldn’t be any better.
Here are The Cage’s Five Keys to the Game
1. Limit Utah’s Bigs
Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, both selected No. 3 overall in the 2010 and 2011 NBA Draft, represent the promising future of the Jazz organization. Favors is an athletic power-forward who regularly produces double doubles. The 22-year-old is also an excellent shot-blocker (1.3 on the year) and a strong finisher.
Kanter, now in his third year, is a traditional big-bodied center with nimbleness. The Turkish native is a burgeoning player with averages of 16.8 points and 8.3 rebounds on the year. Utah’s “towers” have accounted for roughly 32 % of points scored for the Jazz – Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson will have their hands full.
2. Minimize Gordon Hayward’s Impact
Hayward, one of my favorite players in the NBA, is akin to a Swiss Army knife – he has all the tools. The former Butler Bulldog contributes to multiple statistical categories including points per game (18.3), assists (4.8), rebounds (6.5), steals (0.8) and three-point percentage (.391 %). He doesn’t physically intimidate the opposition, but still has good size for his position and can alter the outlook of a game with his Jack of all trades skill set.
3. Start strong and FINISH strong
This goes without saying. The Raptors have a tendency, in this year and previous years, to jump out to double-digit leads only to collapse in the final frames. We can look no further to the Miami Heat game Wednesday night (led 45-34 in second quarter and lost 104-95) and last night’s affair with the Indiana Pacers (led 32-22 after first quarter and lost 91-84). Give 110 % through ALL 48 minutes.
4. Defense… Defense!!!
Team defense has been the silver lining thus far. Toronto ranks 7th overall in opponents points per game (94.3) and 5th in opponent field goals attempted per game (76.8). Furthermore, the Jazz rank dead last in most offensive categories including points per game (87.2) – on paper, this should be a favorable match up for the Raptors.
Another bright spot for the Raptors has been their impressive rebounding. To my delight, Toronto sits in the top 10 of most rebounding categories including – 7th in the league in rebounds per game (45.0), 3rd overall in opponent defensive rebounds per game (28.7) and No. 1 in opponent rebounds per game (36.8). Keep attacking the glass!
X-Factor: Rudy Gay
Surprisingly, Gay didn’t shoot bricks last night against the Pacers as he scored 30 points on 12-26 shooting. Could this be indicative of a return to decent shooting percentages? Maybe. Either way, Gay should be in for a big night as he will most likely be guarded by Marvin Williams – the guy who got drafted before Deron Williams and Chris Paul.