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.

raptors-season-preview-thumb-620xauto-238757

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

  • Brian Gerstein

    Well researched and presented. Thank you!

  • Tanks-a-lot

    The must win games to confirm the Raptor’s assent to the top tier of NBA teams are

    vs. Thunder
    @ Boston
    @ Miami
    vs. Rockets
    vs. Pacers
    @ New York

    If the Raptors win these games the argument can be made that the Raptors have a good chance of getting to the conference finals. All of these games must be won to make the case. That’s what I’ll be watching for anyways.

    • D.D

      did u really include Boston and New York?

      • Tanks-a-lot

        Boston kicked the Raps ass in Boston previously

        The last game against New York will hopefully be a show for the 2nd stringers to win

    • Tamberlyn Richardson

      Hmm, I beg to differ.

      1. The Raptors beat OKC on their court (when they were unbeaten and on a winning streak).

      2. They lost in Houston taking them to 2 over time frames and still had some questionable non-calls which could easily have translated into a Raptor victory.

      3. The Raptors beat Indiana on the second night of a back-to-back (after winning a tough grind out game in Chicago the night before). Plus they played better than they should have their last game. This was the game the Raptors arrived shortly before game time when they were continually held up in Miami due to weather delays (ice storm).

      Would wins against these 3 teams be nice? Sure, but I don’t think it casts a negative shadow on them should they lose any or even all three.

      As for Miami, I’d really like to see a win here since I believe this is more of a psychological need for this young squad. Unfortunately they’ll face them coming off Orlando the day before and the Heat will be waiting after a day off.
      Not sure why you included Boston and New York other than they are divisional rivals however I expect them to win 3 of these 4 games.

    • Roarque

      You really need to change your nick name if you want to be taken seriously. Tanks-a-lot is so Colangeloesque.

      • Tanks-a-lot

        It’s actually a reference to an Onslaught map for Unreal Tournament 2004 online play.

        • unknown

          Captain Obvious.

    • Mexiballer

      The Raptors are a much improved team but I dont think we can talk about top tier until their bench is upgraded in the off season. Casey is making very good use of what he has by trying different line ups and rotations on most nights and by making sure everyone gets a bit of run so they are ready when needed. Still when it comes to playing the better teams the Raptors bench can not play with the top tier benches in the league. Its one of the reasons Casey desperatley wants to get Lowry and Derozan rest before the playoffs start. They are both going to have to play very heavy minutes come playoffs especially without a top tier bench, so they could really use some rest first. Im not being negative at all, its just the reality of the drop off in quality when you get to Salmons, Vasquez, Hayes, and Novak. These are not players that can be counted on night in and night out playoff performers. Patterson and Hansborough are solid. Still this is a fun run and they can get to the second round and be competitive if they play the kind of ball they are capable of playing.

      • caccia

        I think the constantly shifting lineups and unpredictability of minutes are contributing to the bench’s recent weakness, exacerbating the loss of Patterson. The unit has not had a chance to gel. And as Vasquez said, it’s tough to come to the game and not know what to expect, then enter cold.
        Also, when someone like Landry Fields comes in and plays a wonderful game after a bunch of DNCs, he deserves to be rewarded, not cast back into the outer darkness.

        • Mexiballer

          You make some good points and I dont disagree. Still my point is that I do believe the Raptors need to upgrade their bench to truly challenge the top teams in the league come playoff time. I completely agree about playing Landry Fields. Im not sure what it is exactly that Casey does not not like about him. Personally I like his game and his effort, even with his outside shot being completely absent. If Casey can put up with the deficiencies that almost every other bench player has, why doesnt he like what Fields does bring to the court when he is out there. Maybe we will see him tonight.

  • Raptors Argentina

    GO RAPS!!!

  • The Red Fury

    Really enjoyed this! ”
    Only Eastern Conference team to rank in top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.”
    Wow!

  • http://www.idolizingclowns.com/ IdolizingClowns

    I wish I had something witty or insightful to add but this was such a feel good article I’m at a loss for words. Well done!

    • Tinman

      well we got rid of the “feel bad” guy.

  • afrocarter

    A lot of road games and a lot of back-to-backs remaining; that’s tough regardless of the quality of the competition IMO. If the Raps get 11 wins I’ll be VERY impressed.

    • Tamberlyn Richardson

      Just to be clear:

      Chicago and Washington each have 8 Road/Home games remaining, 4 back-to-backs each.

      Bulls: Road/Home – Indy/Phi, Bos/Bos in March & Home/Road: Mil/Wash, Road/Home: NYK/Orl in April

      Wiz face: Road: Port/LAL, Home: Indy/Atl in March & Road/Home splits for both: NYK/Chi, Orl/Mil in April

      Bulls, Wiz and Raps all have 8 games in April but Brooklyn has 10.

      More pivotal is Brooklyn who have 8 Road games (13-20) and 10 home games. However the kicker for the Nets is they have 5 sets of back-to-backs, 4 of which occur in April along with 10 games in 16 days:

      1st @ home vs. Houston
      2nd on road to NYK (followed by 1 day off)

      3rd @ home to Detroit
      4th on road to Philly (followed by 2 days off)

      8th/9th on road to Miami/Orlando

      Final set is:
      15th @ home to NYK
      16th on road in Cleveland

      So the Nets who have not faired very well in back-to-backs will have a lot more pressure on them late in the season especially if Toronto continutes to win at 66% or their post All Star Break mark of 69%.

      • GLF

        The only thing is none of those games are tough except Houston and Miami. Nets can beat the rest of those teams easily even on a back to back.

        • Tamberlyn Richardson

          That’s fair. However, although all we’ve heard about is how hot Brooklyn has been but in reality here’s the comparison since Jan 1 (when BKN started playing well & won 10 of first 12 with Raps stopping their 5 game streaks twice):

          Jan 1 to present:

          Raps 23-13 to Nets: 23-10

          Since All Star Break:

          Raps:9-4 to Nets: 9-4

          Month of March:
          Raps 5-2 to Nets: 6-2.

          Although Nets have been playing great so have the Raptors. They both have a bunch of back-to-backs (Raps have been a bit better in these results), they have approximately same # of road games (Raps FAR superior here) and they both play a bunch of sub-.500’s. Once again I give Raps edge b/c the Boston/LAL losses taught them something.

          When a team doesn’t ever lose 3 in a row it speaks to consistency & Raps are driven. They’ve got 13 games vs. the cellar and I don’t see them letting up mostly b/c they are sick & tired of NOT getting respected. Since no one has picked them all season and continues to ignore them I think it’s their motivation.

          Bottom line: In 33 games the Nets made up 3 games maybe just b/c the Raps played 3 more times but we are expecting them to make up 4 games in 17 games all while Raps have their easiest schedule of the season?

          I hope Nets move up to 5th and Chicago stays at 4th b/c I want Washington. We’ll all know soon enough.

        • Tamberlyn Richardson

          The other factor is remember all those years we toiled in the lottery and pretty much knew we were head there by early Feb/Mar. Well just like Boston surprised the Nets there will be a bunch of teams gunning for all the current seeds, but don’t you think they all want to make a point to Prokhorov that the teams with low budgets can beat his multi-million $ over budget S5?

          I’m just speculating but if I’m a coach for Orlando, Milwaukee, Boston, Philly etc I’m getting them geared up more to play Brooklyn than I am Toronto because the Raptors success is something they can use to motivate their own squads in future seasons.

          • GLF

            You’ve made some great points all around. Chicago seems to have a pretty easy schedule to end the year as well. I worry they will beat us to the 3rd seed but I guess it isn’t that big of a deal. But if we want Washington it might be. This was an amazing article by the way. Keep up the good work!

  • bobmasa

    Such a wonderful article and very well presented by the facts, good job and keep it up Tamberlyn.

  • rapierraptor

    Great compilation and great look back on this season! My favorite line from this article by far: “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.”

  • rapierraptor

    p.s. The 4th quarter dominance to me boils down to onions and leadership and we’re led by an absolute GAMER in Kyle Lowry.

    • webfeat

      Some credit goes to the trainers who have kept these young players in excellent shape. Some good vets that have a calming influence (Salmons, Hayes). Couple of above average bench players (2Pat, GV). Casey also deserves some props: a strong defensive team has a better chance at making a come back.

    • jakdripr

      Gotta give props to the coach as well, being the best 4th quarter team in the league when you’re starting two sophomores and have a very young team overall is a sign of good coaching.

  • unknown

    Someone get this writer a spot on the halftime show. Kick Leo outta there!! Excellent stuff.

    Only quibble – how can TRoss’ 51 point explosion not be counted as an individual accomplishment??

    • Tamberlyn Richardson

      That is totally fair & it should be noted. (I’ll add it in)

      • unknown

        Wow. That’s service…

        That game was the most “whaaaaaa?” thing to happen in T.O. since Vince won the dunk contest. Like alternate universe stuff. The only thing missing was the win.

  • Will

    I really hope we make it to the second round and put up a good fight. Then, all these nice stats can be part of our Cinderella story. If we don’t make it out of the first round, it’ll be disappointing and we’ll have to hear it from the tankers all summer.

    • Tamberlyn Richardson

      Recently we’re hearing on every show how the Raptors are the only Eastern Conference playoff team with 2 sophomores in their starting 5. The fact they’ll be getting their first taste of play after April 16th makes this foray worth while even if they succumb in the first round. Lets not forget DeRozan has no playoff experience nor does Patterson. In my opinion the only way the core will get better is to get a taste of what they’re missing and to suffer some heartbreak so they learn what it will take to get further in future seasons.

      The irony is as much as Toronto is viewed as a team without any experience the truth is all the players who’ll see time on the floor (except the 4 above) have at least some experience.

      Amir: 2 seasons with Detroit – 5.1 MPG (Minutes Per Game)
      deColo (believe it or not) has 5 games – 2.8 MPG.
      Vasquez: 13 games -4.3 MPG

      Lowry got his in 2008-09 in 13 games -19.5 MPG

      Obvious the bench & vets bring the most experience:

      Novak (3 teams) 18 games – 9.6 MPG

      Hansbrough: 35 games -16.3 MPG all with Indy
      Landry: 9 games over 2 seasons in NY with 20.7 MPG

      Hayes: 26 games – 18.4 MPG most coming in 2006-07 (28..1 min avg) season in Houston

      John Salmons: 22 games – 28.1 MPG (3 teams) majority came with Chicago/Milwaukee where he played more than 40 MPG for each team.

      So opening night will showcase 3 starters with their first foray into the post season but a bevy of vets who can enter and calm the storm.

      • why

        I sometimes have to remind myself how young Patterson actually is – he looks like a 10 year vet even though he is only 25

  • JCREX

    good read. i really hope they do well in the playoffs to get the respect they deserve.

  • puffer

    Damn. So much feel good rolled up into one article. Wish I could put this on scroll and use as a screensaver :-) Great job Tamberlyn

  • Dr. Scooby

    Good stuff. Thanks

  • Haim not Feldman

    I cried reading through this column, jk. After so much disappointment and hard work, the Raps and their fans finally can have nice things. Great summary of this special season to date, which can only get better. BTW, Amir scored a career high 32 points at LAL. Peace out.

  • Val Jasme

    Let’s take it 1 game at a time! GO Raps! Prove ’em wrong!!!!!!!

  • Cdel00

    Nice digging Tamber!
    Indeed the home town boys are earning an identity as a tough squad to play against.
    We are also above .500 on the road and above .500 on back to backs.

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