The Raptors have lost their way, not knowing who to turn to when times get tough, when a play needs to be made at either end and no one seems capable of stepping up.
They’ve gotten whacked by the Thunder and Rockets because the Raptors are out of whack, completely out of sync and at a loss to explain their plunge.
They’ve been down this road before and recovered. The physical discomforts will heal, but it’s the team’s collective psyche that needs mending.
The Raptors arrived back in Toronto on Tuesday and will regroup on Wednesday in preparation for Friday’s visit by the New York Knicks.
“We need to get back on track,’’ Jose Calderon began in stating the obvious. “We just need to forget the last two losses and get ready for Friday.
“You go through ups and downs and right now we’re down.”
And there’s no reason for one of those soul-cleansing team meetings that helped turn around the 7-13 start.
“If we have a meeting now, it’ll be with Scott,” Triano joked, referring to trainer Scott McCullough. “When we were 7-13, we had no injuries. Now we have three-quarters of our top four who can’t play. I don’t see any reason to panic right now.”
There does need to be some sense of urgency, though, because the Raptors are about to embark on a difficult month full of road games.
After facing the Knicks and Sixers at home this weekend, they take off for a stretch of four games in six nights on the west coast.
Before the end of March, they will play 15 more games including eight on the road and four sets of back-to-backs. And the home games are no walk in the park with Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Denver and Utah headed to the Air Canada Centre.
That led Triano to suggest he needs to see more “urgency” and less selfishness from his players.
“We’re going to be in a fight for a playoff spot right down to the very end,” he said. “Our schedule is no picnic now.”
Four spots, five teams. It is as simple as that. A week ago, the Toronto Raptors had some separation on the pack. But heading into last night’s action, 2½ games separated the Raptors, Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat and Charlotte Bobcats. One of those teams will miss the playoffs. With marquee free agents, the Raptors and Heat have the most to lose by failing to play into late April.
Riding the league’s top offence (and its worst defence), Toronto looks likely to reach the postseason. Nonetheless, these numbers suggest that a .500-type record might be the Raptors’ high-water mark. Turkoglu figures to decline in a hurry (his statistical profile is similar to Joe Johnson’s, which troubles SCHOENE, and Turkoglu is more than two years older). DeRozan can pick up some of the slack, but it’s hard to see anyone else stepping up. In particular, Bargnani’s per-game stats have always been better than his advanced ratings because of his poor defense and rebounding. Toronto also won’t have a first-round pick unless it slips into the lottery and would likely have to go into the luxury tax to use its mid-level exception if Bosh re-signs.
Reggie Evans picked up a rather dubious honour Tuesday. In an informal poll of 173 of the NBA’s almost 450 players conducted by Sports Illustrated, the Raptors power forward was named "the dirtiest player" by 21 per cent of the respondents. Evans hadn’t played a game this season when the poll was conducted because of injury but still beat out Ron Artest of the L.A. Lakers, who was second at 13 per cent.
That said, the Raptors need to finish the month of March with a 9-6 record if they want to be assured of holding on to the 5th seed. That will be a tough task, which is achievable – based on three keys:
1. Chris Bosh Remains Healthy
2. "Orlando" Hedo Turkuglo Steps Up
3. The Raptor Team Regains a Defensive Focus
Numbers 1 and 3 are most important, but an improved Hedo would provide a massive boost to the team’s chances. If Hedo can play like he did with Orlando down the stretch last season, then Raptors have a good chance to go on a mini-run.
And whether David Stern wants to admit it or not, the NBA is refereed with an obvious “star” and team expectations bias.
The Raptors without Chris Bosh do not have an established star player to attract foul calls for them. And the Raptors are not one of the “favored” teams when it comes to promoting the league.
One only has to watch NBA-TV to see where the league places the Raptors in terms of importance. Sometimes it really looks like the league actually forgets about the team north of the border. Okay, they seem to forget about a few other teams as well, but I’ll admit to not paying that much attention to them either.
Based on the NBA’s coverage, one might think the Grizzlies and Rockets were in the playoffs and Heat was still a dark horse contender. The Raptors could be in 29th spot based on the NBA’s hi-light coverage.