The Raptors are in the midst of a west coast swing which has always been a problem over the years. So far not so much for these Raptors as they walked into Denver and won for first time in a decade which will get your attention. The last time they had both Chris Bosh and Vince Carter were on the roster. The next night in Portland started much more like the Raptors history on the west coast. They came out looking tired and drained and looked to be on the way to taking a pretty solid butt kicking. These Raptors were not going go out like that though. After trailing by 17 in the third they would make a furious rally that would come up short.
While most will point to newly minted All-Star DeMar DeRozan bouncing the ball off his foot with 5 seconds to go as the reason for the loss their were in fact a few mistakes down the stretch. The cool thing about that loss is a lot of Raptors fans were not satisfied with the plucky comeback effort. The idea of moral victories might be coming to an end. This team now has an expectation level to meet every night.
Raptors look to get back on the winning track tonight in Utah who has the second worst record in the west tied with the Lakers at 16-31. The Raptors were of a similar record at this time last year. Raptors looked like a team with their tank on empty in Portland but with a couple days off it are safe to expect a much better effort tonight.
The Raptors defence has not been as consistent as it was in the early days after the Rudy Gay trade. It seems to be something that Raptors have to be backed into a corner to play well of late. They have proven they are capable of being a good defensive team but need to show it for the full game.
The Raptors should be heading to playoffs with little question at this point. It now becomes about them preparing for that eventuality. Can they hold off the Nets and make their playoff path easier? Will they start to adapt their offensive and defensive attack to prepare for playoff style basketball?
I have some major concerns about their offence heading into the post-season. They on many nights seem to be obsessed with the three point shot regardless of if they are having success with it. They don’t seem to be doing the more traditional way that you use the three point shot by building from the inside and than going to the outside. This is not something that I feel you can get away with in the post-season.
The Portland game was a good example of how the playoffs can be. Those last possessions where so much seemed on the line on every possession are how the playoffs are played for 48 minutes. The Raptors need to learn these lessons in the next two and half months to be ready for the playoffs. It takes more effort to win any playoff game than it does any regular season game. It also takes being able to adapt as teams will study you and force you into doing different things and making adjustments.
So while it is true that moral victories should no longer be accepted for this team. What is acceptable and quite welcomed is learning experiences along the way and the Raptors had one of those in Portland. The next time the Raptors find themselves in a tough situation will they have learned from it?
If the Raptors miss anything about Rudy Gay it is his presence at the end of games. It was clear when he was here who was getting the ball with game on the line and was willing to take the shot with everything on the line. That is not as defined now for the Raptors as you would like to say that should be DeRozan but his dribbling skills that are below average for the highest level of the NBA give you cause for concern. Kyle Lowry seems like a likely choice as an alternate option. Lowry has made a lot of big shots for this team with in the body of games. He seems to have more of the mentality to be the guy that would embrace that challenge of having it all on his shoulders. DeMar is getting there in that regard but for now maybe Lowry is better suited for this.
DeRozan already has a lot on his shoulders as it is. He is really starting to show leadership qualities that we have wanted to see from him for years. He has grown into that role of being a leader and taking on the responsibility for making sure this team stays motivated to win.
The Raptors are without question a different animal than they have been in the past. In some ways better than even the best Raptors teams in history. In other ways they are far behind them in some respects. On the road this team has proven to be unique in Raptors history with a winning record. They have a legit chance to have a winning road record for first time in club history. How they are playing in places they haven’t won in long periods of time is a good example of how that has changed.
If you are able to look at this team in the microcosm of this individual season they are a fun group to watch. The uncertain future will be decided in July at the end of the day. I have 100% confidence that Masai Ujiri is rolling the dice with Kyle Lowry and will not move him at the deadline. He is hoping that roll is a 7 like the number his star point guard wears. Raptors have never been the luckiest team in terms of that game. They have hit snake eyes on a lot of gambles they have taken over the years.