It’s game day as the slipping Toronto Raptors will face off against the conference rival Chicago Bulls at the Air Canada Centre. The Raps (42-29) dropped last night’s game to the Detroit Pistons 104-108. A questionable playcall in the final seconds saw the team decide against a timeout and attempt a Lou Williams three-point heave rather than dish or drive. Many were quick to point blame at coach Dwane Casey for his irrational on-the-fly orchestration, while others fault Williams for his love of the iso three ball. In the end we’re left with a bitter loss and a tough back-to-back situation against a daunting opponent. Chicago (43-29) sits one spot above Toronto at third in the East. This game has enormous implications for potential seeding, so let’s get into Cage’s Keys to the Game:
All about the bigs
Both Kyle Lowry (back) and Derrick Rose (knee) are out indefinitely due to injury. The absence of these scoring guards shifts attention to the game’s big men. Pau Gasol seems to have found the fountain of youth since arriving in the Windy City. The aging Spaniard has season averages of 18.6 PPG, 11.9 RPG and 2.0 BPG. Alongside Gasol is Joakim Noah, who looks to make his return tonight after a short absence due to soreness. It’s safe to say Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson will have their collective hands full going up against the league’s elite.
After last night’s disastrous finish, Williams went from 6 Man to public enemy in a matter of seconds. However, the versatile guard has previously demonstrated the ability to come back and deliver. He is the undoubted leader of the Raptors’ bench. With just 11 games remaining in the regular season, it’s clear that consistent scoring from Williams is a common thread in Toronto’s victories. In order to avoid further slippage and close out the season strong, this team needs reliable production from Lou.
Get the General to show up
In a similar sense, Greivis Vasquez has been a source of two-way inefficiency all season long. With Lowry out indefinitely and just a few more games to secure playoff seeding, the Venezuelan wonder needs to produce starting tonight. No more silly turnovers. No more questionable fouls. At this point of the year it’s all about cohesiveness going forward and Vasquez is certainly capable of getting it together.
X-Factor: Tyler Hansbrough
That’s right. We mentioned that tonight will be a game of bigs. Mr. T has always been energetic and relentlessly nuts but the Raps will absolutely depend on him to back up Jonas Valanciunas tonight.