Not much to say about the game last night versus the Pacers it was what it was to a great extent. When you combine the fact that Raptors opened 2014 surprising the Pacers and stealing a win with the Raptors travel woes getting to Indy there was not much of a surprise in the result. Many folks were not all that impressed with the broadcast of the game last night that seemed to harp on the Raptors travel issues as the reason for what was being seen on the television screen. It is hard sell that being stuck in Miami as this great hardship that the team had to endure. In reality it likely was with the Raptors having about 4 different attempts to get to Indy for the game only to have them cancelled. Still when most of the country is living on the planet Hoth more or less the last few days it is a tough sell.
The road weary Raptors return home to find an opponent that most everyone expects them to beat. The Raptors with all of this winning they have been doing are now dealing with something this team has not had to face perhaps since Chris Bosh left. Expectations of people that are not based in some fairy tale of just being a fan of the team but in some solid based of reality in facts and evidence of success.
The Pistons believe it or not would make the post-season with a less than impressive 14-21 mark good enough for eighth place in the well documented terrible Eastern Conference. After a couple seasons ago, going all in on former Raptor Charlie V and former sixth man of the year Ben Gordon with big contracts the Pistons have paid for those bad choices. They once again rolled the dice this year getting long time Hawks underachiever Josh Smith and the polarizing Brandon Jennings from the Bucks. Jennings is a guy that seems to drive the new wave analytics crowd crazy. He is by their standards exactly what you don’t want in an NBA point guard.
I have always been curious about Jennings and wondered how he would fair as a Raptor with his good friend DeMar DeRozan as a duo. I always thought the pair might be able to create some magic together and lift each other up to be better versions of themselves.
The Raptors only worries about their point guard are how they plan to keep him after this season. Kyle Lowry is earning himself money, on this crazy run he is having with the Raptors of late, you have to conclude. It is very much like the first three or four games he joined the team before being sidelined with an injury. He has been healthy this season though and all systems go.
In fact the one thing that is talked about the least in this Raptors season turnaround is how healthy they have been as a group. Tyler Hansbrough has had his issues being in and out of the line-up but aside from him this has been (knock on wood) a fairly injury free season for the Raptors. I saw a graphic on a broadcast a couple games back of man games lost in the last four years for the Raptors which painted a picture of why they have struggled beyond anything else. You can debate the amount of talent they have had, but it has never been all that deep and when you are losing close to 200 man games to injury and in one year close to 250, there is no question you are likely to be bad.
Andrea Bargnani was one of the ones that helped keep that number so high. Regardless of the debate over his talent when he was missing games no one can argue that talent was doing nothing. Despite one of my wrestling heroes saying “luck is for losers,” you do need to luck or good fortune to remain healthy to be able to compete.
That is one thing the Raptors have been fortunate about with DeMar DeRozan and his development he has been the definition of durability in his time with the Raptors. I have not voted for a Raptor to make the All-Star team since Chris Bosh left town. DeMar DeRozan earned my vote this season and it is a credit to his development and durability. A lot has been made of the fact he has had over 50+ players playing along side him in his Raptors’ career. The only familiar face he sees when he looks around the Raptors locker room is Amir Johnson. Unlike Johnson who in his early career had a chance to be a around a championship group of Pistons, that has not been the case for DeRozan. It is hard to grow into a leader with the constant changing of faces around you. Earning the respect of people takes time after all. Finally DeRozan has seemed to break through in that respect and earned the respect of the guys in his locker room and is starting to get it more and more in other locker rooms around the league.
The Raptors have a stretch of games now where they can really show off their improvement and build a huge gap between them and the pack of pretenders in both their Division and the Conference. It was great to see them go toe to toe with Miami and almost win. It was even better to see them split a pair of games with the Pacers. It will mean very little if they do not continue that level of performance as the competition they face goes down in class. This is a really important few weeks for the Raptors despite playing a lot of teams that do not exactly look like they can compete on the same level.
So tonight’s game against Detroit, while the Raptors likely are tired and frustrated from off the court challenges provided by Mother Nature, will tell us a lot about this group and their desire to win. When you have expectations you can no longer be afforded excuses. It has been five plus years of creating narratives about side bar issues surrounding this club. It is now back to sports in its purest form again which is did you win or did you lose? This in some sense is a victory in and of itself.