Dallas almost was able to get in the win column last night. Kevin Durant saved the day with a last second shot and kept his Thunder undefeated at 4-0 while the Mavericks have started 0-3. In their first two games the defending champs were hammered by Miami and Denver. Maybe they miss their defensive guru Dwane Casey who returns with his new team the Raptors. It is more likely they miss Tyson Chandler who was almost a Raptor and instead ended up with a ring playing for the Mavericks. The Champs are not the same team as last year. Vince Carter signed in Dallas after being let go by the Suns. Lamar Odom who was almost a Hornet was so disturbed by this he had to be shuffled off to Dallas by the Lakers for not much at all. Safe to say the Mavericks will be hungry to get a win and they will be happy to do it at the expense of anyone. The Mavs will not be coming to Toronto so if you indeed need to boo Vince Carter this year it will have to be at your T.V screen.
Obviously the Dwane Casey factor is the big story to this game. The Mavs should know better than anyone how to operate against Casey's defensive system. While Casey should know better than anyone the weak points of what the Mavs do. But in the end it might just be about the Mavs desperation to get on track after they have come out so poorly to begin the season. The Raptors can not afford a start like they had against the Pacers. The Mavs as mentioned played last night in OKC and the Raptors will have a bit of an advantage in that. If the Raptors can hang around for 3 quarters and come up with the 4th quarter heroics we have seen in the first couple games led by DeRozan they will have a punchers chance. But that will be the tricky part being able to hang around.
Key Match Up: Andrea Bargnani from since he entered the league has drawn comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki. Even Dwane Casey surprisingly has used the comparison. But if we are being honest the comparison is an insult to the big German. His performance in last season's playoffs alone should be proof of that. Not to mention his MVP season that did not get matched with a MVP Playoff Performance. Andrea has been a pleasant surprise so far. Despite his offensive numbers being slightly down his improved effort on the defensive end has been praised up and down by everyone connected to the Raptors. His rebounding is still not really impressive. But the key to this match-up is that both guys have a match-up they are not use too. Most times they are matched up with players that would rather play in the post than out beyond the 3 point line.
In another match-up that will be interesting will be DeRozan vs Carter. Many also compared DeRozan to Vince when he was drafted. But that comparison is not really one that has held up over time. Vince in his day was the best athlete in the NBA. He was a dunking machine that could not be stopped. If you want someone to compare DeRozan too it is more Vince's Cousin T-Mac that DeRozan is similar too. In any case regardless of who is on the other side of things, Demar must get things going early. If you had looked at DeRozan's numbers minus the 4th quarter they would be scary.
Even if the Raptors manage to compete in those match-ups you still have Odom to deal with not to mention Jason Kidd. The Raptors will have to hope there young rested legs are enough to keep them in the game. Along with any tricks or advice Dwane Casey can provide. But given the circumstances it is hard to imagine the Raptors getting a win tonight. Dallas did play well last night despite the loss and finally started to look like a team that was defending their NBA title.
The Raptors will have some tough challenges to deal with after that this as well. Orlando still has Dwight Howard and look pretty good early on while the Knicks have struggled on the road in the west after a thrilling Christmas Day win over the still win less Celtics.
If the Raptors return home with anything but three more losses it would be a surprise for sure. But the chances are they will be 1-4 returning home to face the Cavs who they beat to open the season on Boxing Day. It might not be a case of wins and loses for the Raptors on this trip as much as it will be a test of their defensive improvement and if they can truly be able to score against a higher level of competition.
One way or the other will have a better idea of if the Raptors will be the team that was advertised with having little chance at winning or the surprise team that they have claimed they strive to be. Tonight could be the toughest test on this road swing given how the Mavs are really in a must win situation. After all in a shorter season for a team that is expected to make the playoffs you can not afford to have many long losing streaks and hope to be in a good position for the post season.