The Toronto Raptors had spent a franchise record 59 days atop the NBA’s Eastern Conference as they reached the midway point of the 2014-15 season with a record of 27-14, the most wins in franchise history after 41 games. It also marked the first time the Raptors had ever been alone in first place. Currently in third place behind the red hot 34-8 Atlanta Hawks, the Raptors still sit a full 10-games ahead of Brooklyn to lead the Atlantic Division. This is rarified air for the NBA’s only team outside of the USA.
To some the Raptors record is surprising, this team has never won 50 games in a season, but since the Rudy Gay trade a year ago December, Toronto has been on a 54-win pace that has continued right up until now.
Toronto set franchise scoring records for the first 41 games this year with 4,363 total points and 367 three-pointers made and they currently lead the Eastern Conference with 45.5 points per game in the paint.
With the improved team play, individual accolades soon followed.
- Lou Williams was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played November 17-23.
- Head Coach Dwane Casey was named as the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for November.
- Kyle Lowry was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for games played December 1-7.
- Lowry was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for December.
The Raptors record for the opening month of the season (Oct/Nov) was 13-4. In December their record was 11-4.
The biggest challenge this season came when their first-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan was suddenly lost for a month and a half to a groin strain on November 28. In his absence, Lowry stepped up his game to average 22.3 points and 8.9 assists in December.
Even though DeRozan has only played in 20 of the first 41 games, he has led his team in scoring 11 times and scored over 20 points 13 times. DeRozan set a career high for rebounds with 11 on opening night against Atlanta. Toronto is 15-5 with DeRozan in the starting lineup and 12-9 without him.
Lowry, shouldering a heavier than expected load, has led the Raptors in scoring 15 times and scored over 20 points 20 times. He has led his team in assists 32 times, recorded 11 double-doubles and the Raptors only triple-double. He scored a career high 39 points in Utah, grabbed a career high tying 9 defensive rebounds against Washington and tied his career high for steals with 6 in New York.
Third-year center Jonas Valanciunas has led the Raptors in scoring 6 times and on the glass 22 times. He has a franchise best 12 double-doubles. Valanciunas set a new career high for points with 27 against Phoenix and then he broke that mark with 31 against Detroit.
Newcomer Lou Williams has led Toronto in scoring 8 times already and has led the bench in scoring 26 times. He has 8 games of 20 or more points and set a new career high with 36 points in Cleveland.
The Raptors other big off season addition James Johnson has led the team in rebounding 5 times, in bench scoring 7 times and grabbed a new career best 10 defensive boards against Orlando.
Amir Johnson and Patrick Patterson have each led their team in rebounding 7 times. Amir tied his career best of 2 made three-pointers against Dallas. Patterson had a personal best 5 made three-pointers against Denver, grabbed a career high 7 offensive boards in Chicago and tied his career high of 13 rebounds in Milwaukee.
Terrence Ross has been inconsistent, but he has led the Raptors in scoring twice this season and in rebounding once.
Head Coach Dwane Casey preaches defense, but this team is built around offensive-minded players and once DeRozan went down, scoring went up, but more loses followed.
The Raptors are 16-1 when holding teams to under 100 points and 14-2 when holding opponents to below 45 percent shooting from the field. When they fail to achieve these defensive targets, the Raptors are effectively a .500 club.
Toronto also sports an interesting record depending upon the day of the week. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, they are a perfect 12-0. Monday and Tuesday combine for 7-4, but Thursday, Friday and Sunday are a disappointing 8-10.
The Raptors have played in 9 back-to-back sets, winning both ends 5 times and splitting the other 4 for a record of 14-4. They have 10 sets of back-to-back games remaining.
Toronto is a perfect 7-0 against their own division with 9 games remaining against Atlantic Division opponents. They are 18-8 against the East, 9-6 versus the West, 16-7 at home and 10-7 on the road.
The Raptors are 3-4 since returning from their post Christmas break Western Conference road trip and 2-2 since DeRozan returned to the lineup. They will have to play well to pass the 28 wins the 2006-07 Raptors put up in the second half of that season.
photo credit Paul Saini Fylmm.com
The NBA schedule is half over and teams are-who-they-are by this point. After 40 games, strength of schedule has started to even out and a number of teams have shown us how they can deal with adversity – or not. The Hawks are on a role and stand well above third place in our rankings and closing in on the top ranked Warriors.