Toronto Raptors Game Preview: Raptors vs. Clippers


Toronto Raptors Game Preview: Raptors vs. Clippers

On the surface, everything seems peachy for the Toronto Raptors.

Their record is an impressive 33-17, and they currently occupy the second seed in the Eastern Conference. However, upon further examination, the Raptors are struggling, dropping two straight winnable games at home to teams below them in the standings.

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So is it time to panic in Raptor land? It very well could be as the month of February will push Dwane Casey’s squad to its limits.

The stretch of eight consecutive games against teams with winning records begins tonight, when the Los Angeles Clippers invade the Air Canada Centre. Chris Paul will have his group fired up for this one after a humiliating loss at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.

Key to Victory #1: Get Lou going

Jan 10, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Louis Williams (23) shoots against Boston Celtics guard Evan Turner (11) during the first half at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Sixth Man of the Year candidate Lou Williams is currently in the midst of his toughest stretch as a Raptor. Over the past two ball games, the former Philadelphia 76er has shot a combined 2-of-23. If Toronto is going to come away with a victory tonight, it needs Williams to regain his form. The Clippers are armed with a bona fide weapon off the bench in Jamal Crawford, and whichever scorer has the better night could determine the outcome of the game.

Key to Victory #2: Make Jordan earn it

DeAndre Jordan is putting up historic numbers, including a field-goal percentage of 73, but there is one serious flaw in his game – His 39 percent success rate on free-throws. That number makes Shaquille O’Neal look like Steve Nash. If the Raptors find themselves beat down low, it’s better to wrap Jordan up and make him earn the points from the line than to allow the easy basket. We could even see the ‘Hack-a-DeAndre’ make an appearance as Casey experimented with this strategy last season. For those who do not know what that means, it refers to intentionally fouling Jordan on every possession because the chances of him hitting his free-throws are slim to none.

Key to Victory #3: Improve shot selection

The Raptors have developed a tendency to settle for below-average to flat-out terrible shots early in the shot clock. Three-point attempts are fine if they come within the flow of the offence, but contested looks from long-range are becoming too common a theme for Toronto. Look for the home team to swing the ball from side to side and create shot opportunities from drives to the basket.

Marquee Matchup: Amir Johnson vs. Blake Griffin

Jan 25, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) goes up against Toronto Raptors forward Amir Johnson (15) at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

After registering consecutive outings of at least 17 points last week, Amir Johnson has come back to earth, netting a combined 12 points over the last two. Like it or not, the 27-year-old veteran has developed a smooth (albeit slow and deliberate) shooting stroke from the outside. Many Raptor fans cringe when Johnson fires up a three-point shot, but it’s hard to argue with the results. On the season, he is converting on 46 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. The forward will have his hands full on the defensive end tonight, going up against Blake Griffin. The four-time All-Star has improved his range on his jump shot, but remains at his best when operating close to the basket and in transition. If the Raptors hope to contain Griffin, Johnson will need to do his best to keep him on the perimeter.

Prediction: Both squads enter tonight’s matchup on mini two-game slides. The Raptors have lost their way, and will need to get back on track immediately if they hope to stay afloat during this hellish month. Los Angeles was embarrassed on TNT on Thursday and will look to respond north of the border this evening. Even though the Clippers have superior talent, Toronto can grind out a win tonight at home.