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Toronto Raptors Flirting With Franchise History

As the Toronto Raptors head into Cleveland on Tuesday night, the focus remains one game at a time, but in reality, the team is flirting with the best record in franchise history at the end of February.  Toronto has never won 33 games before March and with 31 wins and games against the Cavaliers and Wizards remaining before the end of the month, there is a real possibility they could get there.

There was a definite split in opinions about the Raptors before the season started.  Camps viewed Toronto as either a playoff team or believed President and General Manager, Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri was going to blow up this roster in search of the best possible lottery draft pick.  However, Ujiri has always said it was the players that would decide and apparently these guys are hungry for a postseason appearance.

The Raptors are in their 19th season, but they have only made the playoffs 5 times, thrice in the Vince Carter era from 2000 to 2002 and twice in the Chris Bosh era in 2007 and 2008.  They should have made the playoffs in 2010, but injuries and a hot Chicago Bulls team led by Derrick Rose took the opportunity away.

The team set the franchise record for wins with 47 back in 2001 under Head Coach Lenny Wilkins.  They were 31-27 at the end of February that year and it was the only time the Raptors made it to second round of the playoffs.  The days of the All-Star and likely future Hall of Fame player Carter remain the most exciting period in franchise history.

Under new President and General Manager Bryan Colangelo and Head Coach Sam Mitchell, the Raptors tied the franchise mark for wins in 2007 and Bosh’s team was a win ahead of Carter’s team at the end of February with a record of 32-26.  This same group was 32-25 at the end of February in 2008, but then Bosh missed 10 games with a sore knee and the Raptors were 34-33 by the time he got back and they finished the season with a .500 record.  These were the last 2 years Toronto was in the NBA playoffs.

In 2010, Bosh was in a contract year and was having a career season.  The Raptors were 29-23 at the All-Star break, but Bosh was injured in the first game back and their season went with him.  Toronto was 31-27 at the end of February that year.   The Raptors did hang on, going 3-4 while Bosh was out, but they lost 5 games in a row on his return of fall to 32-33 by the middle of March.  A 40-42 record wasn’t enough to hold off the upstart Bulls and the Raptors missed the playoffs.

This year the Raptors are 31-25 with 2 games left to go in February and Toronto has recently defeated both of the teams standing between them and win number 33.  The Raptors beat the Cavaliers on Friday 98-91 in Toronto and play them again Tuesday night in Cleveland.  They also beat the Wizards 103-93 in Washington a week ago and play them in Toronto on Thursday.

As Coach Casey reminds his players, the media and anyone else that cares to listen, the Raptors haven’t done anything yet and one only has to look at the Raptors seasons in 2007-2008 and 2009-2010 to be reminded about how injuries can change a team’s fortunes on a dime. However, there is a reason that first time events are celebrated, even seemingly minor midseason records, they haven’t happened before and they create hope and excitement for what is about to come.

The Raptors are an expansion franchise with a relatively short history in the NBA.  Hopefully they can set some records of their own this season and start creating some new moments worth remembering.  Setting a seemingly insignificant record for wins by the end of February could possibly signal the start of a new Raptors era, that of the freshly minted All-Star DeMar DeRozan.


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.


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