Raptors, Celtics Hope To Stop Respective Slides

Two teams hungry to put an end to lengthy losing streaks meet tonight when the Raptors visit the Celtics in their first meeting of the regular season (7:30 PM, Sportsnet, FAN590).

Projected Starters
Jose Calderon (G), DeMar DeRozan (G), Rasual Butler (F),  Ed Davis (F), Amir Johnson (C).
Rajon Rondo (G), Ray Allen (G), Paul Pierce (F), Kevin Garnett (F), Jermaine O’Neal (C).

Key Injuries
TOR – Andrea Bargnani (strained left calf) – day-to-day, Jerryd Bayless (sprained left ankle) – day-to-day, Aaron Gray (rapid heart rate) – OUT, James Johnson (sprained right ankle) – day-to-day
Keyon Dooling (sore right knee) – day-to-day, Chris Wilcox (sore left calf) day-to-day

Working On Offence: For the Raptors, a renewed focus on defence continues to yield solid early returns as they sit eighth in points allowed per game (91.9 ppg)and 15th in defensive efficiency rating (100.1)

The issue has been offence (86 ppg – 29th, 94.6 off. efficiency – 27th) and it’s one that’s undoubtedly being addressed now that the Raptors can actually get in some practice time.

The schedule ahead remains road heavy to close out January, but at the very least the Raptors coaching staff has some opportunities to get in some valuable on-court teaching time.

Eric Koreen of the National Post spoke with head coach Dwane Casey after Tuesday’s practice in Boston (the team’s first in 12 days) and has more on the benefits of a few more over the coming days for the Raptors.

Celtics Struggling? The Raptors get their first regular-season look against a Celtics team that’s started the 2011-12 campaign with a surprising 4-8 record.

Both teams enter Wednesday’s game on five-game losing streaks, but this is entering some uncharted territory for the Celtics, who haven’t lost five straight since the Big Three have been together.

You look at the C’s strength of schedule to date, combined with their record and the natural assumption is that they’ve struggled. But look at Boston’s opponents during their current five-game slide (vs. IND, vs. DAL, vs. CHI, @ IND, vs. OKC) and you can understand Casey’s reluctance to say anything’s really ‘wrong’ with the Celtics.

“I don’t buy that they’re too old, they’re still a tough, tough team to play … they’ve hit the rough patch of the schedule,” Head coach Dwane Casey told Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun on Tuesday.

Injury Updates: Following a lengthy morning shootaround, Dwane Casey revealed that James Johnson (sprained right ankle) is available to play tonight, while Aaron Gray (rapid heart rate) is likely to go but we’ll await word closer to tip-off.

Jerryd Bayless (sprained left ankle) and Andrea Bargnani (strained left calf) will not play in Boston tonight.

Casey also suggested post-shootaround that there could be a change to the starting five tonight. You can listen to Casey after the morning session below courtesy of Eric Smith of Sportsnet Radio The FAN 590.

Check out Eric’s blog over on the FAN 590’s site for more reaction and speculation from him and radio play-by-play announcer Paul Jones.

Survey Says: If you didn’t get the opportunity on Tuesday, be sure to check out NBA.com’s annual GM survey, with a little bit of Raptors content in this year’s edition.

Andrea Bargnani received some deserved recognition by finishing tied for fourth among international player most likely to have a breakout season in 2011-12 and Jose Calderon received a vote as one of the league’s best passers, but the highest praise comes for a player not yet on the roster.

First-round pick Jonas Valanciunas finish tied for second when GM’s were asked which rookie would be the best in five years and earned most votes as the best international player currently not in the NBA.

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