This weekend Raptor fans were treated to two games on the opposite end of the happiness spectrum: a statement win against the surging Grizzlies and a disappointing loss against the surprising Suns. These contests pinpointed exactly how much Toronto has grown, but also highlighted areas still requiring improvement.

On Friday we witnessed the emergence of a confident Jonas Valanciunas utilizing his growing offensive arsenal, which was helped by the benefits of having two different styles of point guards and the best fourth quarter team in the league. Since Memphis plays the type of style most post-season games will mirror, this win against a defensive-minded half-court team was a great measuring stick for the Raptors.

Sunday’s loss demonstrated why the Raptors are 31-7 when they limit teams to less than 100 points and featured zebra reticence of the home whistle (Phoenix went to the line an additional 13 times). Looking back at the loss, it’s fair to say Toronto could have exacted a different outcome had they employed their defense for a full 48 minutes to dictate, and reduce, pace. It’s important to mention two technical fouls, a missed call on a three-pointer taken from out of bounds, and a no call on a knee to Kyle Lowry’s head resulting in 5-8 points for the Suns. In a game lost by 8, it harkens us to recall losses to Chicago, Washington and Sacramento (to name a few) where the referees treated Toronto like the underdogs.

Although it’s easy to claim bias, history proves winning will eventually lead to respect and favorable whistles.  DeMar DeRozan can attest to this as he’s being awarded more trips to the line since he became an All-Star. This is similar to Indiana’s Roy Hibbert earning respect following his emergence as the king of the verticality principle. With Toronto on the precipice of their first visit to the post-season in six years and a young core intent on winning, it stands to reason that a playoff berth and continued success will eventually result in a fairer whistle.

More from RR Today:

Although I’ve hurled my fair share of curse words at the zebras I tend to lean toward the optimistic view, so today’s article will focus on the positives and examine the many milestones this year’s squad has achieved. I’ll also take a look at the Raptors final 17 games as they embark on hoisting their second Atlantic Division banner. As always, I invite your comments and opinions for further discussion.

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Team Achievements:

  • Raptors longest losing streak since the trade is 2 games and has occurred just 3 times. Since February 7, the Raptors have lost only 4 games: a 2-point loss to Chicago, a 5-point, triple over-time loss to Washington, the 4-point loss in Brooklyn and Sunday’s loss to Phoenix.
  • Raptors have lost only 3 games since the trade by more than 10-points:  Twice to San Antonio, the first time short-handed the day following the trade and to the Clippers at the end of a long road trip.
  • Toronto and Phoenix share an interesting record:  in losses they lose by less than 10-points.  In fact the Raptors largest loss this season was by 16 points (Chicago in November).
  • Rank 10th in offensive efficiency, 1 of only 3 Eastern Conference teams in top 10 (Miami, New York)  up 4 spots from 2012-13.
  • Rank 7th in defensive efficiency, 1 of only 4 Eastern Conference teams in top 10. (Indiana, Chicago, Charlotte) up 15 spots from last season.
  • Only Eastern Conference team to rank in top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
  • Rank 14th in assists per game: 16.7 (Note: prior to the trade they were 29th so this leap is indicative of a massive improvement)
  • Rank 12th in offensive rebound rate: 27.3, up 8 positions from 2012-13.
  • Since the trade Raptors winning percent is 66% and has climbed to 69% since the All Star break. With 13 of 17 games remaining versus sub-.500 teams it’s a fair assessment to project a further 11 wins.

Fourth Quarter Dominance:

  • First in points allowed: 22.0
  • First in second chance points: 4.3
  • First in point differential: +2.7 (next 4 teams are within .2 of each other while Raptors are .8 better than second place Miami at +1.9)
  • Second in opponent field goal percent: 41.2%
  • Third in free throw attempts: 8.1
  • Third in fewest turnovers: 3.1

Breaking Through:

This season fans have been witness to the Raptors breaking through long-standing droughts and end several winning streaks:

  • Ended a 7-game home losing streak to Utah
  • Beat Lakers on the Road for first time since 2001-02 Season
  • First Eastern team to beat Dallas (Dallas had won 12 of past 13 contests prior to Raptors sweeping the series)
  • Snapped Oklahoma’s unbeaten streak at home and 9-game winning streak
  • Stopped Indiana’s 5-game win streak (4 in a row at ACC)
  • Raptors were only team to beat Brooklyn in their first 12-games of 2014, stopping 5-game win streaks each time.
  • Raptors won in Denver for the first time since 2002-03 season
  • Snapped Cleveland 6-game winning streak
  • Beat Golden State for the first time with Curry in the line-up

 

Individual Accomplishments:

Kyle Lowry:

  • 7th in the NBA in assists per game: 7.9
  • 17 double-doubles
  • 15th in steals per game: 1.57 (12th in total steals: 102)
  • Tied for 3rd with 2 triple-doubles this season, 1 of only 8 players who have multiple triple-doubles
  • Improved every statistical category per game over 2012-13 except blocks (with 17 games left)
  • Recorded his most assists, steals, field goals and three-pointers in a single season
  • Averaging 19.3 points, 9.1 assists and 6 rebounds per game in March
  • Leads NBA in charges taken

DeMar DeRozan:

  • 9th in scoring with 22.6 points per game
  • Voted by coaches to All Star Team for first time
  • Seventh in free throws attempted per game: 7.6 (up to 9 since All Star Game)
  • Has already surpassed total 3-pointers made, assists and free throws and is also on pace for his best season totals in rebounds, steals, blocks and points

Terrence Ross:

  • 16th in 3-point field goal percent (41.5%) and is 1 of only 3 players in top 20 who are on a team who play for a top-4 seed (Belinelli and Mills from San Antonio)
  • Needs just 4 rebounds to surpass every category of his rookie season
  • Doubled his 3-point shots made
  • His points per game since the All Star Break are up by 2.4 points
  • Scored 51-points in a single game, tying Carter’s franchise record

 Amir Johnson:

  • Seventh in NBA in field goal percent at 55.8%
  • Needs 10 blocks to pass Vince Carter (415) for second, Bosh is first with 600
  • 23rd in blocks per game: 1.16
  • Shooting 64% from the field in March while scoring 14.4 points (up 3.6 from season)

Jonas Valanciunas:

  • 34th  in NBA with 18 double-doubles
  • Shooting 66% from the field in March while scoring 11.4 points and collecting 7.4 rebounds
  • His field goal makes, steals, rebounds and total points have surpassed his rookie season
  • Showing signs of growth recently in all aspects of his game

Raptors Record Markers:

  • 15-5 at home since January 1st (sixth in NBA)
  • 11-4 since February 10 (tied with Chicago for best in Eastern Conference)
  • 1 win in their final 3 games against West opponents will ensure Toronto’s first .500 record against the West since 1999-2000 (ESPN)

Remaining Schedule:

Raptors Remaining March April Games

 17 total games remaining

  • 9 on road
  • 8 at home
  • 5 back-to-back series remaining
  • 3 games versus Western Conference
  • 14 games versus Eastern Conference
  • 13 games versus sub-.500 teams
  • 5 games versus Atlantic Division

Kenny Smith has proclaimed that Brooklyn will win the Atlantic Division, Charles Barkley has stated Washington will take the third seed and other NBA analysts call for Chicago to overtake the Raptors on a nightly basis.  There’s one problem: each time one of the opponents makes a run at the Raptors they calmly go out and take care of business. To wit, Chicago, Brooklyn and Washington are all 7-3 in their last 10-games.  Toronto is the same.

As much as the Raptors consistency since the trade is noteworthy, it’s the teams who excel after the All Star Break who position themselves for an extended playoff run.  During this period top teams like Miami, Indiana, Portland and Oklahoma City have all shown signs of struggling. The fact Toronto has improved their winning percent bodes well.

Besides, I don’t think this Raptor squad cares what anyone says. They are thrilled everyone keeps discounting them because it gives them the inspiration they need to prove everyone wrong. It may well be the fuel that built this team’s character and continues to drive them on a daily basis.

Looking forward to the close of the regular season as the magic number for the Raptors to clinch a post season berth is now 5.

Tipping off to another exciting week of NBA basketball, follow me on Twitter @TTOTambz