The Toronto Raptors have won 10 of their last 13 games and are ballin’ out of their minds right now. That’s not something I thought I would say this year, but that is exactly what’s happening at the moment. Toronto has not trailed once in their last three victories, which includes a win over the Portland Trail Blazers, Philadelphia 76ers and now the Charlotte Bobcats.
The Raptors made quick work of the Bobcats on Friday night as they cruised to a 99-78 victory at the Air Canada Center in Toronto. Give Coach Dwane Casey some credit; a lot of credit. He has completely turned this ball-club around after their atrocious 4-19 start to the season. Since that time, the Raptors have been 10-3. Toronto is starting to be one of the surprising stories of the year thus far, as they have gone from nearly the bottom of the conference to now being in a position where they can smell the playoff hunt.
The most bizarre component of this story is the fact that they have become entirely more competitive without two players that began the season in the starting lineup: Jonas Valanciunas and Andrea Bargnani, who was looked at as the team’s most valuable player coming into the season. Now Toronto is seemingly more than happy to put Bargnani on the trading block on continue to move forward with the way that Ed Davis and Amir Johnson have been playing.
Wednesday night the Raptors beat the Sixers 90-72, handing the struggling Sixers their fifth straight loss. Landry Fields has made his way back into the starting lineup after a very poor start to the season and is now starting to leave an impact. He recorded 11 rebounds in both of Toronto’s last two games and was two points away from his second consecutive double-double. The Raptors were kicking themselves after signing him to a three-year 19 million dollar contract in the offseason, but he has finally put together a string of solid games.
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At this point, Toronto is playing well on both ends of the floor, with very few weaknesses. Wednesday they held the Sixers to 39% shooting and Friday kept the Bobcats to only 37% from the field. They are taking care of the ball, committing only 12 turnovers in each of the last two games, and are winning the battle on the boards by an average of eight rebounds in those contests. In addition, Davis and Johnson are shot-blocking threats that have transformed this team defensively by making it difficult for opponents to finish at the rim. With their recharged second unit ready to come in and put points on the board in a hurry, the Raptors are looking like a deep and very well-rounded team.
Opposing teams can no longer take this Canadian team lightly. If anything, they should recognize it will take 48 minutes of one-hundred percent effort to take this team down. By now, the scouting report on this team should be much more exhaustive. Calderon, the head of the snake, commands the team, Lowry is an explosive sixth-man, and DeMar DeRozen leads the team in scoring.
If you didn’t know, now you know; Toronto is demanding respect from all of their opponents. If not, they will happily walk away with a victory.
But they must remain focused. The next four games on the schedule will be a crucial stretch for this Toronto team. They will face four consecutive opponents from the eastern conference that find themselves ahead of the Raptors in the standings. Toronto will start with Milwaukee at home on Sunday, at Brooklyn next Tuesday, and then move on to face Chicago and Philadelphia. Will they fall off and be forgotten before they receive league-wide recognition? Or can they continue to play well and climb up the eastern conference standings? Only time will tell.