Though they lost to the Bulls Monday night, Toronto still clinched a playoff berth with the Celtics loss. On Friday, they ensured the Atlantic Division crown and will hang that banner for the second year in a row.
But with the team slumping lately, reports out of Toronto would have you thinking this was a squad headed for the lottery.
“We’re working at it, we are what we are right now,” said Dwane Casey before the Raptors win over LA Friday. “It’s not all gloom and doom.”
When the Raptors started hot, the 50-win plateau seemed inevitable for the first time in franchise history. With 10 games left, the Raps would have to go 8-2 against a relatively weak string of opponents. It’s possible, but not a target with the playoffs looming and players needing rest to be ready.
“I think the real team is the team you saw at the beginning of the season,” Masai Ujiri told the FAN590 radio. “Are we as good as [24-7]? Maybe not. Are we as bad as losing 10 out of 12? No.”
I tend to believe in Masai and his front office who were recently named the NBA’s 11th best by ESPN.
Chicago is pulling away for the third seed in the East and it’s looking more likely the Raptors will meet the Washington Wizards in the 4-5 matchup in the first playoff round. Both teams have struggled since the All-Star break and it will be crucial for Toronto to maintain their homecourt advantage.
Washington’s strong team defence is eighth in the league with points allowed per game (97.7), John Wall will give Lowry fits if he’s at all hobbled by his back woes, and Paul Pierce’s presence lingers in the ACC after last year’s playoff execution. That’s why Washington brought him there.
The Raptors have not fared as well on the defensive side. In January, the Raptors gave up 103.8 points per game. They brought that down to 96.9 in February but, in March it crept back up all the way to 106.2
“We’ve done it more with offence than with defence which wouldn’t be my preference but that’s how we’ve kind of got it done,” said Casey. “But we’re in the playoffs and won the division which were goals we set out to achieve. So not all is dead and sad, and gloom and doom in mudville.”
If Toronto wants to turn things around, they can’t be so predictable on offence. It’s because players are too rigid in their defined roles and Casey is too rigid in keeping them in those roles.
Tyler Hansbrough and James Johnson have been two of the best Raps this season, but still see minutes from the end of the bench. It’s hard to give Terrence Ross minutes but he’s still on life support.
DeRozan and Lowry’s health
If the Raptors intend to ride their supposed stars they’ll need something a lot closer to peak Lowry and DeRozan to be able to compete in the postseason.
“Knowing that we’ve clinched the division could be the thing that gives us that boost to get us over the hump, something to get our swag back,” DeRozan told NPH and assembled media in the locker room post-game. “Once we get back on track we’re going to be right where we left off.”
The Lakers game was an off night for DeRozan who finished with six points, but he’d been tearing it up in March. DMDR started the month with 35 against Philly and didn’t score less than 18 points in any of the 13 games this month.
Lowry is still out with back spasms, but something about the situation reads more like pre-playoff rest than an injury to worry about. Let’s just say if the team was fighting for a playoff spot, he’d be suiting up.
Once Lowry returns he’ll have to find sync in the backcourt with DeRozan who have spent plenty of time spelling each other this season during.
The 6 Man – Lou Williams
With ten games left in the regular season it’s officially time to crank up the hype for Lou Williams as the best bench contributor in the League.
Drake has also embraced Toronto’s “6 Man” with a song on his album and an appearance in his OVO/ Raptors spring clothing collection launch video, a collaboration with Mitchell & Ness.
A former runner-up for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award in 2012 when he led the Sixers in scoring off the bench, Lou made his way back from a torn ACL to set career numbers in TO.
Williams is averaging a career-high in scoring with 15.1 per, and has already scored more points at the free throw line (306) than any other season in his career.
Lou leads all NBA reserves in total points, three-pointers made, and free-throws made.
Other potential winners Rodney Stuckey, Iguodala and Speights from Golden State, and Isaiah Thomas don’t quite stack up, and past winners Jamal Crawford and Taj Gibson have missed too many games.