After a very slow start to the season, the Raptors are starting to get things going in the right direction. Toronto has been dealing with injuries all season long and has struggled to find the identity of their team. They began the season among the worst in the league and finished the month of November by beating the Phoenix Suns at home to avoid a seven game losing streak. Toronto then lost another six games in a row before miraculously turning things around in the middle of December and has now won seven of its last eight games.
When your team is losing games, and losing a lot of them, it becomes natural to begin to experiment with various changes in the lineup. Most teams find that these experiments only show that alternative routes prove to be unsuccessful. In the case of the Raptors however, it has done quite the opposite. Winning seven of your last eight games is an accomplishment for any team and the Raptors have learned that their new approach to their lineup may be the reason for that.
Jose Calderon continues to pace this team from the point position and now looks to have the starting position securely in his hands. Kyle Lowry has arguably been this team’s best player and now finds himself anchoring the second unit from the bench. As a typical scoring point guard, Lowry can now come in the game and really look to get himself going by scoring the ball. His ability to put points on the board as the Raptors’ new sixth-man is an issue for any second unit to handle. By Lowry taking the bench to begin the game, the Raptors have been able to balance the scoring between the bench and the starters a lot better.
Landry Fields appears to be back in playing form and finds that he has now shifted to a bench role as well. Fields played an efficient game in their win over Orlando on Saturday night as he was three for three from the field and grabbed nine rebounds in 21 minutes. Fields struggled as a starter for this team, but he can now relax a little bit and let his game come back naturally as a reserve.
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Mickael Pietrus was added to the roster after the first month of the season and has played steady basketball as a starter for this team and has provided some additional veteran leadership. He also played 21 minutes against Orlando on Saturday and connected on 50% of his shots, connecting on three attempts from long-range.
Did I mention that their win over the Magic was a complete blowout? Toronto put up 123 points on the road against the Magic’s 88 points. This team was connecting on all cylinders and managed to get six guys into double-figures scoring; three from the starters, and the other three from the bench.
DeMar DeRozen has taken control as this team’s leading scorer with injuries that put Lowry on the sideline for a stretch and has Andrea Bargnani inactive. DeRozen and Calderon have played well together as the starters in the backcourt with DeRozen providing scoring and Calderon setting up the team.
Ed Davis has become the starter in Bargnani’s absence and has also been playing very well. He has scored in double-figures in seven of the last 10 games and adds solid rebounding and shot blocking inside. He had 18 points and seven rebounds against the Magic.
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Rookie Terrence Ross has continued to begin playing as a rookie from the lottery should play for this team. Ross scored 16 points on six of 10 shot attempts, including four threes off the bench. With such well-rounded play from both the starters and the bench, it is no wonder that this team has been playing so well. They have been taking care of the ball, they are shooting the ball much better, and everyone seems to be falling into a natural role on this team.
To begin the season it was unclear how they were going to win games and what was expected from all of the players. Now with the 2012 calendar year coming to an end, this Raptor team is looking carry their momentum into 2013. In the New Year, the Raptors can forget about their slow start to the season, and focus on getting better with their “new” team going forward.
Toronto can no longer be taken lightly. If teams do not prepare, they will fall victim to this surging team. The Raptors are making moves and with the mediocrity at the bottom half of the eastern conference, they could still make the playoffs. They are currently in 11th place and only four games out of the playoffs. The Raptors will play their next six games at home, beginning with the Portland Trailblazers on January 2nd.