The Toronto Raptors look to end their recent woes in the city of brotherly love tonight against the lowly Philadelphia 76ers. Recently removed from Wednesday’s painful loss against the Memphis Grizzlies, Toronto (27-15) has plenty of motivation heading into this contest. Aside from the Raptors’ dismal 3-7 record over their last 10 games, the Sixers (8-34) are automatically pegged as an easy target. The home squad began the season in historically poor fashion and shows humiliating struggle on a nightly basis. Additionally, the Raps’ next string of games feature beatable opponents (on paper, at least). The list goes: Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings and Brooklyn Nets. There’s no doubt that Toronto would like some momentum going into next week. Finally, as bonus motivation for tonight, Kyle Lowry is fresh off his internet-shattering announcement as a starter for the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Still feels surreal, doesn’t it? The ninth year guard’s confidence is at an all-time high, so watch his play closely. Let’s go over Cage’s Keys to the Game:
Google their roster before the game
Protect the ball
Surprisingly enough, Philly ranks first in the NBA in steals per game (9.9). This is highly concerning for Toronto given their emerging habit of unnecessary turnovers. It’s not a major problem in the halfcourt offense, but the Raptors need to take care of the ball on the fast break. Michael Carter-Williams is insanely athletic, so he poses a threat on both ends of the floor. Make one mistake with the basketball and the second year guard will make you pay. It’s the responsibility of all five men on the floor to play smart and avoid their team’s number one problem over the last few weeks.
Cancel the block party
The Sixers also rank third in the NBA in blocks per game at 6.0. This isn’t as surprising given the presence of defensive big men Nerlens Noel and Henry Sims. It’s no secret that coach Dwane Casey has a passion for playing small ball down the stretch, but there must be some exceptions tonight. Toronto will need a concerted effort from Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson if it hopes to produce in the paint. Accordingly, the Raps need to be particularly selective with their shots tonight. Despite their atrocious record Philadelphia is a defensive nuisance- look for magnified carefulness from the visiting squad.
As previously stated, Carter-Williams is no joke. The talented guard is capable of high-volume scoring, effective rebounding and smart ball distribution. While the rest of his team is basically a bunch of nobodies, the Raptors cannot ease up on the reigning Rookie of the Year. With season averages of 15.6 PPG, 6.1 RPG and 7.1 APG, Carter-Williams is one of the leagues rising stars. He does most of his damage from mid-range, therefore defensive pressure on his jumpshot should immensely slow his production.
X-Factor: Terrence Ross
*sigh* Ross has quickly become a polarizing figure in Toronto. While some still believe in his touted potential, others have grown tired of his inconsistency and want him out of town. Although he had a solid off-the-bench outing against the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday (16 points in 23 minutes), the third year guard went scoreless on Wednesday’s contest versus Memphis. Here’s hoping that Ross can finally string together a series of great games.