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The Toronto Raptors will do battle with the New York Knicks tonight in their last game of the regular season. At the beginning of the season, the Raptors were the team expected to be in the lottery, while the Knicks were thought of as a playoff team at the very least. In a surprising role reversal, it’s the Knicks who will be at home in front of their T.V.’s this weekend, while the Raptors will be at home in front of a sea of white. The Northern Uprising is almost upon us.
Cage’s Keys To The Game
Don’t Scoreboard Watch
With a win tonight the Raptors will clinch the third seed in the East. The Raptors should be focused on tightening up their defense and going into the playoffs with momentum. With so many possible scenarios between the five and seven seeds, the Raptors have no say or any idea as to who they will be matched-up against in the first round until the end of the night. The Raptors need to worry about their own and take care of business in the Big Apple. With a record of 42-21 since the turning point of their season (the Rudy Gay trade), this team will be a tough out for whomever they face.
Don’t Overlook the Knicks
Carmelo Anthony is out with a torn shoulder and the Knicks have been officially eliminated from the playoffs. Yet the Knicks have won their past two games since being knocked out of the playoff race. The Raptors have been very inconsistent against lottery-bound teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and the Detroit Pistons recently, especially on the defensive end. This needs to be a complete game from start to finish. Expect Kyle Lowry to, in the words of Greivis Vasquez, play like “a scary pitbull.”
48 minutes of shutdown defense
As mentioned before, the Raptors have not been very strong on the defensive end as of late. The Raptors are giving up an average of 103.4 points per game in the month of April. This is despite a record of 6-1 for the month, and playing five of those games against teams with an offensive efficiency ranking of 20th or worse in the league. The fate of the Raptors post-season journey will hinge on their defense. Righting the ship starts tonight.
X-Factor: Amir Johnson
Amir Johnson has been trying to re-acclimate himself since coming back from injury. Just four days ago he was observed by National Post writer Eric Koreen taking part in three-on-three games after practice, which, as Koreen notes, are usually reserved for deep reserves. Johnson’s hustle, rebounding and defense are vital to the Raptors team success. This is a game where Johnson needs to look to reclaim his top form as the playoffs approach. He also needs to be able to contain Amare Stoudemire, who went off for 24 points and 11 rebounds on 10-14 shooting in a Knicks win the last time these teams played.