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NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas, DeMarre Carroll, Kyle Lowry & DeMar DeRozan

It’s Time For Toronto To Board The Raptors Bandwagon

The Toronto Raptors pulled out another win at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night against a potential playoff rival to boost their home record to 26 wins and just 7 losses and increase their solid hold on second place in the Eastern Conference with a 44-20 record overall, but for some bizarre and completely historical reasons, the locals are still reluctant to board the bandwagon.

Sure, even at historically high ticket prices, the building has been sold out all season. Toronto is a huge market, but the refrain across the all-powerful social media remains, let’s wait and see what this team can do in the playoffs.

Maybe the skeptical Torontonians are distracted by the high powered offense of the Toronto Blue Jays as they tear up the exhibition season in Florida? Even the call-ups from the AHL Marlies to the heavily tanking NHL Toronto Maple Leafs seem to get more attention in this usually hockey crazed city, but the Raptors aren’t just having a good season by their own previously low standards. This year the team is actually good – very good by any standard.

The Raptors are on a 56 win pace and it’s nothing new. They’ve been on a solid winning pace all season. Plus, it’s not a mirage like last year either.

Last season this team set a new franchise record with 49 wins, but they did it by beating up on their weak sisters. The 2014-15 fourth place Raptors were only 15-21 versus teams with a .500 record or above and the three teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings had solid winning records against winning teams. Even the fifth place Wizards who swept them out of the playoffs had a nearly identical 14-22 record against winning teams. That kind of regular season success indicates a team who’ll be lucky to advance past the first round of the playoffs and isn’t much of a threat in the second round.

This year the Raptors record doesn’t indicate it’ll take luck to to be considered a favorite to advance past the second round of the playoffs.

Toronto currently has a 13-5 record against teams in the East holding down a playoff spot and to put those Western Conference blowhards in their place, the Raptors are 9-3 against playoff teams in the West. 64 games into a season, your record is no longer a fluke. You are who you are at this point and the Raptors are beating the teams they are likely to face in the first two rounds of the playoffs and are 2-1 against the heavily favored Cavaliers.

One of the big holes in the Raptors game from last season was their rebounding. As much as their defense was being maligned, it was the inability to secure the rebound after a stop that did them in. Toronto was outrebounded 193 to 154 by the Wizards in the playoffs and everyone should have seen that coming. The Raptors were regularly being out rebounded during the regular season and a bigger and more physical Wizards team literally pushed them around in the playoffs.

Life on the boards is good for Toronto this year. The combination of Jonas Valanciunas and Bismack Biyombo has given the Raptors a presence on the glass this team isn’t used to having. The two centers are top five in rebounding percentage in the East. Add in the veteran presence of big man Luis Scola who is a solid rebounder in his own right and the Raptors rebounding differential versus their opponents has improved by 3.5 rebounds per game. That’s enough to move them from a bottom 10 rebounding team last year to a top 7 team this year.

The better overall defensive effort is stark when compared to last season. To-date the Raptors are holding teams to an NBA fifth best 98.4 points per game and no one beats this team without scoring over 100 points. They have a franchise best 29 straight wins when holding their opponent under 100 points.

For comparison, last year’s squad gave up an NBA 12th worst 100.9 points per game on the season and they were in the bottom three of that year’s playoff teams for points allowed.

All that and this team has been playing without their best overall defensive player DeMarre Carroll since January 3rd and he’s expected back any time now.

It’s time Torontonians jumped on this team’s bandwagon. They aren’t just historically good by their own previously low standards any more. The Raptors are in second place in the East with a six game lead on the fourth place Celtics and they’ve taken over fourth place in the NBA overall. It’s a team enjoying success over the best in the East with a 13-5 record and the best in the West at 9-3. It’s no mirage this time. All aboard.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.