Folks, the Toronto Raptors are running out of time in their playoff hunt and they have no one to blame but themselves for the spot they're in now. It's going to take an incredible effort for them to get the 8th playoff spot with so many teams ahead of them fighting for the same spot. Mathematically, they still have a chance but the odds aren't good based upon what we've seen in the first 58 games. With Jose Calderon and Chris Bosh back in the lineup and the additions of Shawn Marion, Marcus Banks and Patrick O'Bryant the Raptors are a bit of a different team than we saw earlier but is it enough to get them over the hump? Here are my 5 keys for the Raptors if they're going to make an improbable playoff run.
1. Intensity/Passion: Anyone who watched the game @ NY on Friday night vs. the Knicks on TSN would be wondering what's up with this team. It was totally unacceptable. That being said they did bounce back on Sunday but again the clock is ticking. This club absolutely needs to be the team each night that plays HARDER and with MUCH MORE passion and intensity than its opponent the last stretch of games here. The margin of error is slim. No-show games can't be part of the equation any more.
2. Team Defence: Wanna Run?? Then pay the price. Work on the defensive end and get down and do the dirty work. This team has struggled all year guarding off the bounce and defending the 3-point shot. Those areas need to tighten up immensely. Adding Shawn Marion is a major upgrade at the 3 spot defensively. He's tough, can guard multiple positions, he boards and blocks shots. Good defensive teams have good habits - day in and day out - no nonsense. Jay Triano and his staff have preached and taught what needs to be done - now the players have to finally get it done with consistency. NO excuses!!
3. Rebounding: Shawn Marion is a major upgrade at the 3 post in this area as well. The Raptors have to control their own boards and get themselves some offensive boards as well. Marion helps in this area and they need Chris Bosh and Andrea Bargnani to be aggressive getting here as well. You want to run? Then pay the price. Work on the glass so that you can get possession and outlet the ball and get off to the races. No rebounds - no running chances. Get the nose dirty - win the 50/50 battles and get in there and board.
4. Running Game: I've heard all year that the Raptors want to be a running team. It's the HARDEST style of play to play. Everyone thinks it's a stylistic/cute way to play but that's nonsense. You've got to be in INCREDIBLE shape and mentally tough to do it night in and night out in the NBA. If you want to do it and WIN GAMES you've ALSO got to put in the dirty work of playing defence and rebounding. Jose Calderon has to be the guy who looks to get guys running and pitching it ahead to them for easy scoring chances. I love it when teams are able to get this component of their game going. They have the weapons to be a good running team but are they willing to pay the price in all phases of the game to get it done?? Only time will tell.
5. Front Court: This is the strength of the Raptors team. The Raps need Bosh at 100% playing like he did in October/November and Bargnani to keep improving and get Marion going each night. This is a VERY GOOD front court potentially. I like these 3 guys together over an extended period of time and think they can mesh well. They got to play to their strengths and these 3 can get out and run and are quite effective scoring in the halfcourt as well. The Raptors need HUGE games from these 3 down the stretch to compete.
There you have it. Time is running out but the Raptors are still alive. For the Raptors to be alive on April 17/18 for the playoffs, they've got to do these 5 points well. Look forward to see if this group has it in them to answer the challenge ahead.