The Toronto Raptors have played better on the road this season than at home and take a surprising 4 game road winning streak into San Antonio after knocking off Dallas and Oklahoma City on the weekend. However, this team’s improved play has coincided with the departure of Rudy Gay and the arrival of Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and John Salmons from Sacramento and they have spent most of their time together on the road, so maybe the road has nothing to do with what’s been happening lately?
Immediately after trading Gay, a short-handed Raptors squad visited the Lakers and came out with a 106-94 win. Two nights later while they were still waiting on the traded players to complete their physicals, they lost at home to the Spurs 116-103 after taking a 36-24 first quarter lead. Since then, Head Coach Dwane Casey inserted Vasquez, Patterson and Salmons into the rotation and the Raptors have gone 4-1 with their only loss to the Bobcats in overtime. As Casey exclaimed, “We got a bench.”
A team that was 6-12 and fading fast in the very weak Eastern Conference is now 11-14 and leading the Atlantic Division again.
Coach Casey keeps insisting this season is all about developing Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan, but now he is allowing some of that development to happen by letting Ross watch the veteran Salmons show him how it’s done with the game on the line. Patterson has given Casey another physical player to use in a 4 man rotation with his bigs and Vasquez has provided a backup point guard that can contribute something – sometimes in a big way.
This new Raptors rotation has only been together for 5 games, however, the early results are very encouraging.
The veteran Spurs continue to do just about everything right. They are 21-6 on the season, 9-1 against the East and 9-3 at home. This team rarely beats itself, is deep, well coached and will contend for the Western Conference Finals again this season. Based on their record and coming in after playing the night before, the Raptors haven’t got a chance.
The Spurs are scoring 103 points per game while holding their opponents to an NBA fourth best 95.3. They boast the league’s second highest field goal percentage (48.9), second best three-point field goal percentage (40.2). They don’t foul or send opponents to the free throw line very often and no player even averages over 2 personal fouls per game. Effective and disciplined, the Spurs have continuity and chemistry. Until this group falls apart due to old age, not much is going to change.
The only Spurs ‘weakness’ is they have 5 players over 30 years of age and only 2 players under 23, but based on how the ‘old’ guys are playing, that isn’t much of a handicap.
22-year-old Kawhi Leonard, third in team scoring at 12.3 points, will be back in the lineup after missing Saturday’s game against the Thunder for some dental work. Tony Parker played on Saturday after missing the 2 previous games with a shin bruise.
The Raptors were not expected to win any games on this road trip before Christmas, but they have come back twice against teams with much better records already. Effort is often the difference between having no chance and giving your team a shot to win at the end and for the past 5 games at least, the Raptors have put out plenty of effort. An automatic Spurs win is no longer a sure thing, they will have to earn it.