*Photo via USA Today
With the Raptors Canadian fan base growing at a rapid pace, the franchise is right behind the Los Angeles Lakers as the most popular team in Canada. Point guard, Kyle Lowry, earned himself a nice all star selection, but it’s time to get back to business.
At 4th place in the Eastern Conference and 1st place in the Atlantic Division, the squad is en route to their 3rd division title. But going 3-7 in their last 10, things north of the border might not be so calm. Play is expected only to intensify as the playoffs near.
Good teams win at home and great teams take their show on the road. The Raptors are holding down the Air Canada Center nicely at 21-11. On the road however, improvement can be made on their 17-13 record.
The Raptors lead the league with 20 games with 10 turnovers or less and only 1 of 5 teams in the Eastern Conference with a winning record against West teams, the Raptors are sticking around.
Every team will play you harder in their own gym. The Raptors are on a 3 game road trip, already losing to the Charlotte Hornets and the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Lowry returned Friday against the Hornets, after sitting out 3 games with a diagnosed hand injury. The Villanova product did tally up 25 points in the 103-93 loss to Charlotte.
Toronto had tons of chances to come out on top at Chesapeake Arena Sunday night. Their lacks of execution on offense lead to another loss. The Thunder held on for the home win despite a late fight from the visiting Raptors. Toronto led the contest by 7 points heading into the locker room at halftime, but that didn’t matter. Russell Westbrook kicked it into overdrive as he went off for another triple double. Westbrook’s 5th triple-double in 6 games, and giving the Raptors problems all night long. Dropping game 2 of their 3 game trip 108-104, Toronto seems to be losing momentum.
The Raptors winning percentage relies heavily on DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, and Lou Williams.
We all know what DeMar is capable of doing. He seems to improve as the season goes on and we can expect him step up his play with the regular season coming to an end. DeRozan is averaging a nice 30 points per game in the squads last 3. He feels the team looks great in transition, but could diminish their stagnant spurts. Lowry is known for saving the Raptors on numerous occasions and the team will bank on his strong play for the remainder of the season. A significant drop in Lou Williams’ play is standing out. His low shooting percentage isn't very much help, as he continues to put up bricks in the teams critical possessions. A change from Lowry and DeRozan in the way they get their shots could add to a higher shooting percentage for Toronto.
The team continues to play their isolation offense, majority of the time, which is proving to be highly disastrous and poor.
Another easy solution for the Raptors problems, pound the ball inside. Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas can bang down low and scrap all night. James Johnson loves put the ball down and get to the hoop. These 3 players are highly underrated, who are producing efficiently for Toronto. Involving the 3 of them more in the team’s offense would help eliminate the poor isolation play. Looking for high percentage shots could lead to a surge of offensive efficiency the Raptors are in dire need of.
Ball movement nonetheless would be a factor to help break down defenses. Reduced efforts on defense are only adding worries for the Raptors, permitting opponents to 108.4 points per game. Teams are reading the Raptors offence like an open book and capitalizing on Toronto’s mistakes.
The club will take on the San Antonio Spurs Tuesday night at the AT&T Center. Coming of a victory against the Bulls Sunday afternoon, the Spurs look like they’re regaining championship form. San Antonio will look to dominate the struggling Raptors early. Toronto leads the 2 game season series at 1-0. Looking to sweep the series against the Western Conference perennial power house, the Raptors have their work cut out them.
If the Raptors can’t produce victories in their remaining 20 games, another first round playoff exit might be in the picture.
-By Narv Mulchand