Last week when Kyle Lowry and Amir Johnson were both injured I panicked. Perhaps even I, the internal optimist wasn’t immune to the Toronto curse mindset. I’ve had copious conversations on why this season was different. I was one of the first to declare the trade (The Big Tease) would lead us to the promised land. I pointed to how adding depth and the right veterans (Chemistry Class) would allow for the growth of our core, specifically the sophomores (Flight Patterns Changing at ACC) and I continually highlighted milestones (Raptors Seek To Gain Respect).

So why the sudden worry?

It’s no secret Lowry and Johnson are my favorite players on the team, embodying the heart and soul of the squad, so it’s reasonable I told myself to feel the angst I was struggling with. But, truly I think I had simply fallen victim (momentarily) to the Toronto sports team curse. Just last year we watched the Leafs implode and the Blue Jays add a horde of mega million players only to finish one win better than the prior year.

As for the Raptors, it’s hard not to recall the absolute dejection I felt watching Carter’s shot clang off the rim in game 7 versus Philly. I remember fighting with the Bboyz (my term for a group of guys I attend games/argue about our Dino’s with) about wanting to play Washington instead of facing the then: New Jersey Nets in 2007, because I just knew Carter would take us down. And, these were the good years!

Hey, it’s hard to be a devoted fan of any Toronto sports franchise when it’s been years since any of our teams have been considered contenders. As Raptor fans we’ve had to endure:

  • Loss of franchise players/bonafide leaders: McGrady, Carter, Chris Bosh.
  • Witnessed players arrive via trades/free agency fail to live up to their potential: Kapono, Turkoglu, Gay.
  • Observed draft picks not measure up (Bargnani) or be traded away (Davis).

Then the mini win streak coupled with a few gentle ribs from the Bboyz thrust me back into reality and I had an epiphany. I came crashing back to earth to remember something very important: as much as the fan base has had to endure this torture, so too have the players!

DeRozan and Johnson have watched each season of their tenure pass by without a trip to the post season and heard the snickers as they’ve taken to the court. They, more than anyone have had to keep their heads amidst the media throngs who question the team failing year after year. It might hurt us as fans, but imagine how that feels as a player. From the time they first put on sneakers and played organized ball they wanted to compete, to grow and play on a winning team. Watch any interview with this year’s team and it’s a veritable certainty they are equally fed up with being cast aside as an afterthought within the Association.

This 3-game mini winning streak in truth is reflective of this year’s squad. It’s not just the next man up mentality it’s more than that. This squad is a team in the truest sense of the word. I recall the last second win in Brooklyn when Lowry looked directly in the camera and said “that was for you D” referring to the injured DeRozan. Ditto for Vasquez who opined “We won that for Kyle”  following the Houston victory. This team cares about each other, about the city, about the fans and most importantly about winning.

When I did snap out of my fleeting funk, I recalled some important facts regarding this season’s squad.  I thought I’d share these with you just in case you find yourself hit by the same temporary curse mindset.

Playoffs Confirmed

There are a couple of key components involved in the ascension to a playoff team: chemistry, consistency, continual improvement and pride.

Chemistry:

Perhaps the most obvious sign of chemistry is witnessed in the ball movement which was immediately evident by the increases in the team’s assists per game following the trade.

  • November: 17.6
  • December: 20.3
  • January: 23.8
  • February: 23.5
  • March: 20.9
  • April: 21.0

Outside of on court performance another key factor is we never hear of off court troubles for individual players or locker room problems.

Consistency:

For me consistency is best demonstrated in 3-areas: minimize losing streaks, compete every game (no blow-outs) and road records.

The Raptors have excelled in all these areas, especially since the trade:

Losing Streaks:

  • 2 losing streaks prior to trade: 3-game streak within first 6-games of season and a 5-game streak which ended the eve of the trade.
  • Since December 6, Raptors have not lost 3 games in a row.
  • In total, the Raptors have had five 2-game losing streaks (only 1 since the All Star Break).
  • This is a very heady stat when you consider the only other team not to have had a 3-game losing streak all season is the Clippers who, like Toronto have had five 2-game losing streaks. Only 4 other teams have had losing streaks of less than 3 games since January: Clippers, Chicago, Golden State and Memphis.

Compete Every Game:

  • Of the 5 teams above, Toronto is the only team who hasn’t suffered a blow-out of 15+ points since January. Since the trade Toronto has 3 losses of 13 points: twice to San Antonio (both within 8 days of trade) and once to the Clippers.

Road Record:

  • Only 5 Eastern teams have a .500 or better road record:
    • Miami: 22-16
    • Toronto: 21-18
    • Chicago: 20-18
    • Washington: 20-19
    • Indiana: 19-19

 

Continual Improvement:

In 7 Week Itch I touched on how the final portion of the schedule offered the right opponents to fine-tune for the playoffs.  March/April stats demonstrate growth is occurring:

  • Best field goal percent
  • Highest points per game
  • Improved 3-point shooting
  • Valanciunas offense and defense is dramatically improved:
    • To end of February: 10.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, +/- minus 0.8
    • March: 12.2 points, 8.5 rebounds, +/- plus 2.5
    • April: 18 points, 9.3 rebounds +/- plus 11
  • Ross is also showcasing improvements and consistency:
    • To end of February: 10.5 points, 3 rebounds, 3-pointers: 1.9pg
    • March: 11.9 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3-point shots: 2pg
    • April: 15.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3-point shots: 2.7pg, +/- plus 4.0 (highest of season)
  • The bench has begun to mesh and is consistently producing
  • Veterans Hayes, Salmons and Novak are contributing (especially in the past week)
  • Copious areas improved from 2013: offensive rebounding, overall defense and fourth quarter dominance

Kyle Lowry

 Pride

Josh Lewenberg tweeted: the Raptors are 9-0 without at least one starter playing: (Johnson: 4-0, Lowry: 3-0 DeRozan: 2-0, JV: 1-0, Ross: 1-0).

Only the loss of Patrick Patterson resulted in multiple losses. I’m not suggesting we should go any length of time without the services of any of the starters, but the fact is this year’s Raptors may actually be the best team in the league at dealing with adversity.

Final 5 Games

When I cursed the schedule gods at the start of the season, I didn’t have the foresight to see how the final 2 months would work in the Raptors favor. Just like their 4-day rest in March, the current 3-day rest is equally timely.

Although the Wednesday Philly game appears irrelevant it actually has major significance; with a 10-3 record vs. their division, a win in Philly will put the Raptors out of reach in a tie-break situation for Brooklyn who has 6 losses (9-6). Brooklyn have 6 games remaining including 2 back-to-backs, 3 road games and a game in Miami who will be motivated to stop a Net sweep.

If Toronto wins the division they will also win a tie-break with Chicago for the third seed. The Bulls also have a back-to-back and 3 road games in their final 5-games with tough matches potentially against current spoiler team: Minnesota and playoff contenders Charlotte and New York.

Since the trade the Raptors have a winning percentage of 62% (68% since All Star). Given this consistency a safe guess is 3 wins resulting in what I called for February 4 which is a franchise best: 48 wins. (On Pace to Win 48) Whether Toronto attempts to sweep the last 5 will depend on how Chicago performs; a loss of 1 or 2 games by the Bulls would allow Casey to rest some starters in the final games.

Perhaps the greatest motivation for Toronto to take the third seed is how well they match up versus Indiana who appears fated for second place and are currently in turmoil internally. (Here’s an article featuring Raptor Republics William Lou’s take on a Bobcat versus Raptor first round match-up)

As we approach the post season and anxiously await the determination of our seeding and opponent I can say without reproach I’ve given in to the fairy tale season and firmly believe this Raptor squad is destined. Not just to gain experience, but to do what they’ve done all season: overcome the odds, face adversity, benefit from timely occurrences and maybe just maybe over achieve en route to a second, third and maybe even higher round. My hopes are they’ll do it not just for themselves, but for a fan base eager to dispose of this curse mindset once and for all.

Tipping off to an exciting week of basketball, enjoy.

  • Regina Raps Fan

    Great piece of work T.R, Thanku. I would love to see 50 wins this season, but I’d trade it all for a deep playoff run. Go Raps!

  • Saskatoon Raps Fan

    great article. I think we finish the season going 4-1. However if the bulls go undefeated Im confident the raptors can keep pace and finish 5-0 taking the third seed. I see that one loss coming in the last game in new york with casey resting the starters. If they do have to win that game to lock up third i believe they’ll play the starters and get it done

  • JayTeam

    9-0 without starters? I thought DD missed the loss to Clips at home.

    • JayTeam

      Nevermind. Landed on Turks foot during that game, so he did play some.

  • ahoang

    Great read! Exciting times in Raptorland!

    Let’s hope this carries over into the playoffs. It’s a whole other animal we’ll be up against

  • afrocarter

    Great point bringing up the effects losing seasons have on the players. Anybody who says the fans deserve a play-off berth more than the players (especially DeMar & Amir) is insane! Great piece.

  • afrocarter

    I don’t see Chicago losing again during the regular season; 50 wins could be necessary to clinch the 3rd seed! We can do it!!

    • Tamberlyn Richardson

      Chicago is definitely a concern, however Minnesota has been crushing the competition lately and both New York and Charlotte (who they play in the final game of the season) are looking to up their rank or get in playoffs respectively. Personally I think it might come down to the last game of the season but I’m hoping for the Bulls to lose vs. the Wolves. Also they play 3 of 5 on the road and have a back-to-back.

      Based on their recent play they have played at approximately the same pace as the Raptors, in the past 10 Bulls are 8-2 and Raps are 7-3. Plus Bulls are on a 5 game win streak, so although its possible they can sweep their final 5 games it’s more likely they lose at least one.

      • afrocarter

        I certainly hope you’re right; it’d be hard to Chicago to end the season on a 10-game winning streak! Out of all those games, I’d put my money on Charlotte being the team to beat them because of their defence matched up against Chicago’s not-great offence.

        (As an aside, I can’t see Boozer getting many minutes in that Wolves game. LOL I’d pay to see him try and chase Love around the perimeter.)

    • Matteemo

      This is how I feel, we pretty much need to win all the way through to the end of the season, as neither us nor the Bulls have a difficult final stretch, I could see both teams going undefeated over this final stretch, having the tie-breaker is critical as it very well could come down to it

  • Stephen

    Split with the Knicks, win the rest. 4-1 seems reasonable, and that gives them (… checks playoff odds…) 95% odds of finishing 3rd. I’ll take that.

    Hollinger’s old method, which is still kicking around ESPN like a Walking Dead zombie, has them as a 17.6% chance of making the finals. ONE TIME OUT OF SIX. I mean, you know and I know that Hollinger’s stats don’t take into account that they haven’t beaten the Heat in years, but that’s pretty awesome.

    • Tamberlyn Richardson

      Great point, I love that I called for them to win 48 games on February 4! (Little bit of a brag tee hee)

  • Quest

    we have a chance to win 50 games on the year for sure. philly is indeed an important game and i hope klow and amir are back by then. we can then take it easy in the games vs millwaukee and detroit. but try hard for our games vs new york since they are a division rival, and i have a strong hatred for them

  • Quest

    i have chicago losing to either charlotte or the twolves, so we may just have to go 5-0

    • GLF

      I believe we have the tiebreaker against Chicago so if they go 4-1 we can go 4-1 and still get the third seed. Pretty much we have to either win the same amount of games as Chicago down the stretch or win more games than them to get the third seed. I believe Chicago and Raptors both play on the same days for each of their remaining 5 games. This is going to be a fun race to the 3rd seed. Hopefully we decide our own fate and win. If Chicago can go 5-0 so can we.

    • Tamberlyn Richardson

      If Chicago loses either of those games Raps can lose one as well since the first tie break is based on season series (which is tied) and for teams not in each others division the second tie-break is based on whether either team won their division; hence why the Philly game is so important as Brooklyn already has 6 losses vs. division with one game left to play vs. NY while Toronto has 3 left (2 x NY and Philly) and currently have just 3 losses vs. division. So the magic number to clinch the div is 3 if they win in Philly.

  • morgan c

    Third seed huge.
    IF we get it, we’ll take the Wizards in 6 (or Charlotte if they surpass the Wiz), and I honestly feel we could beat Indiana in 7. They are REELING. Let’s go!

  • Roarque

    I realize how blessed I have been when I hear stories like you just told TR. You see, I was there when the Leafs won several Cups ( was that really in the sixties?) and I was there when the Jays were dominating MLB with two World Series titles. And now to think, after all these years of Raptor building, that my NBA team has a chance to play for all the marbles.
    Don’t ever think that the Raptors can’t win it all. At a minimum, I expect them to be playing the Spurs in the finals this Spring/Summer. I mean would you want to be playing the Raptors at this point in time if you were the Pacers, or the Nets, or the Wizards, or the Heat….Okay, maybe the Heat will go 7 games.

    • Tanks-a-lot

      anything can happen, it’s the playoffs.

      • kameko

        Thats actually not true. For the most part, the better team usually wins in the playoffs. Playoff upsets are rare in the NBA.

        • Tanks-a-lot

          you proved my point. anything can happen, rare though it may be.
          Although, I’m sure the refs will be pulling for the Heat to get to the finals.

        • Roarque

          Mavs over the Heat three years ago. One power forward in his prime and a gaggle of three point shooting veterans with a Casey designed defense beat the best team in the World at the time.

          • kameko

            like i said, upsets are rare.

    • Tinmann

      Wow – I thought I was an optimist

    • Haim not Feldman

      I wouldn’t doubt it. These Raps have interesting parallels and inverse coincidences with the LA Kings. The Kings play in a big city, a basketball town. They play before loyal longsuffering fans in the presence of Laker banners. Try as they might over the years, they just don’t get anywhere, and as a fan I wonder if they’ll achieve anything much less a Stanley Cup, then 2012 happens. Tim Leiweke leaves for the Raptors the following year. The Raps, playing in a hockey town, haven’t really gotten anywhere, then 2014 happens. I’m not saying they’ll win the O’Brien trophy this year, but like TR mentioned above, it’s a fairy tale season.

  • golden

    Appreciate the write-up, but I think the Raptors fanbase needs to stop living in the past. Recanting letdowns, talking about bringing VC back, wanting to tank because BC didn’t do a proper rebuild… etc..,, etc… It’s all a symptom of the same mindset – Raps fans have a really hard time letting go of the negative past. Just stop it already. Please. Thx.

    • Tamberlyn Richardson

      Thats exactly the point: embrace this team and the future and believe in them

      • golden

        Agreed and thx for the nice writeup. But why can’t we talk about the future without bringing up our emotional angst about what happened before? I check blogs and forums for other teams and Raptor bloggers and fans are by far the most nostaglic bunch, especially for being one of the youngest franchises in the league. It gets tiring to read… sorry.

        • Tamberlyn Richardson

          Granted, however if you read the links I attached it’s a series of articles I wrote between December and March and ALL were extremely optimistic. I saw the trade as a positive, talked about chemistry, milestones, predicted a 48 win season 2 months ago etc. Perhaps the best was when one commenter on the Flight Patterns Changing at ACC (about Terrence Ross’ growth and inevitable break out performance being due) said I had no idea what I was talking about and called the team scrubs after they lost 2 games. That weekend Ross went off for 51 points and I just smiled.

          This article arose from my initial worry about Lowry and how critical he has been to the team. I read comments constantly from fans who expect the worst so this was written to point out even the greatest optimist (ME) has moments of worry, but inevitably I still believe in this franchise and it’s direction. Ultimately I’m hoping we can absolutely shed the negativity of the past to embrace the current and look to the future. Hope that explains where I was coming from.

          Further, in terms of comparing the past to the present I’m not sure it can ever be completely shed. For example looking at Durant’s season its hard not to discuss it without bringing up the past and comparing him to MJ. Not just because he just beat his 25 point per game consecutive scoring streak, but this season has been extremely reflective of one of Jordan’s best. There is a great article I think on NBA.com discussing it. Personally, I think the Raptors as a franchise need to embrace their past, albeit brief history in the Association, to start developing a personality and image for the franchise moving forward.

  • puffer

    Really nice upbeat article Tamberlyn. Can’t argue with you over a lot of it. I think I detect the optimism of youth…on the other hand you were around to be destroyed by Vinces graduation day miss, so you have been through the tough times. Here’s hoping.

  • Kenya

    How big would a deep playoff run for our second year players? If they could get another 15-20 big playoff games under their belts that will be huge down the road!

    • Tamberlyn Richardson

      HUGE! it’s what I’ve said all year. As much as getting a franchise player would be awesome there is no guarantee a draft will pan out in a teams favor: look at Cleveland. What TRoss and JV will gain (not to mention DeMar) will pay huge dividends moving forward. Like I said it truly feels like a fairly tale season where everything has aligned just right. If it continues we’ll grab the 3rd seed and face Indy who I honestly believe we can beat. If not they’ll go deep against them which will also be awesome. Either way, its a win-win season and all us BBall fans are smiling. I’m personally inviting all my hockey buddies over to watch a real team! lol

    • Bryan Colangelo

      At worst, a decent run would boost their trade value immensely.

      At the beginning of the season, both Ross and JV were considered questionable starters on a bottom feeder team. Now they’re seen as essentially role players/starters on a playoff-bound team. They’re pretty damn fine chips we can hold onto or cash in.

  • Vytas

    Just noticed, that since Bargnani stop playing for the Knicks, they made NBA TV’s special Playoff push. Seriously, before Bargnani got injured or fired or whatever, Knicks were on a 5 game loosing streak. When he got sidelined – 5 wins in a row and now are 18-18. In other words playoff team.
    He is just that bad.
    Knicks fans probably hates him already.

    Total chemistry killer. And all around douche.

  • gizzly73

    Great work and a good read. Raps could contend in the playoffs imho. However, I fear they are a bit young especially JV and TR. I think if they keep Lowry next year which they must, and add one or two role players, it could be a very big year. Anything past round 1 will be an awesome bonus and will make TO fans wake up to great team and org. Chicago with Noah will be very tough as will the Nets with those grizzled vets.

  • tonious35

    “Raptors may actually be the best team in the league at dealing with adversity.” On record and with different starters out, but ask PHX and how they dealt with injury losses….

  • CJT

    Jonas has been caught and charged with DUI in Wasaga Beach. Not sure what this means for his ability to play games and/or playoffs. His first court date is April 22 or something like that. I wonder if the team will suspend him for conduct detrimental to the team. This is going to be a tough PR job for MLSE

    • Haim not Feldman

      I bet JV had the exact same reaction 😮 he had during the Bucks game. 😛

    • tonious35

      He beat Indiana, Houston, and Milwuakee, and has a 4 day break…I’d also be very tempted to get crunk and drunk in Wasaga if I was in his shoes as well.

      • CJT

        Seriously. You think it’s ok for him to drive a car drunk because he happens to have been part of a few wins this week? Not cool.

    • tonious35

      Shhhhhhhhh…. an apology and community services and fines, that’s it. NO Suspensions. I mean he didn’t do this: http://www.wisn.com/news/south-east-wisconsin/milwaukee/VIDEO-Bucks-Larry-Sanders-involved-in-nightclub-fight/23288732

  • Tamberlyn Richardson

    It’s an unfortunate incident I don’t take lightly as my parents were killed by a drunk driver. I’m glad he addressed it quickly saying he took responsibility and apologized to his teammates, fans, franchise etc.

    He’ll probably learn a valuable lesson from this and do some community service which will reach a ton of younger kids so they don’t make the same mistake and he’ll come out a better person in the long run. I haven’t seen yet what he blew. I know the numbers are so low now so hopefully he wasn’t smashed b/c that would be extremely unfortunate. I would tell him what I tell everyone if you are drinking you are not driving: PERIOD.

    • MisterM

      Amazing article! Loved the stats thrown in. You’ve done a wonderful job this season, one of my favourite writers on this site by far. Thanks for all your hard work. I hope this doesn’t sound trite, but my sincere condolences with regard to your parents. I’m so very sorry. I can’t imagine anything worse than a selfish and completely avoidable act destroying a family. Whenever I hear stories as such, it angers me to no end that people can be so fucking stupid and selfish. Thanks again TR. Here’s to the playoffs! Cheers.

      • Tamberlyn Richardson

        Thanks so much Mister M, glad you enjoyed my efforts. I’m passionate about the Raptors and NBA so it’s a thrill for me to have joined the Raptor Republic team who’ve been more than welcoming. Excited to head into the playoffs.

        I appreciate your comments on the personal situation. It happened when my sisters and I were very young (4 of us all 8 and under), but fortunately we had family to step in and raise us. I learned the lesson via a personal tragedy however I understand how young people make mistakes. I too believe he’ll grow from this and suspect someone like Amir or Chuck Hayes will pull hims aside and tell him it’s time he put away the youthfulness until they are done this post season. Honestly, the community service he will likely end up performing has the opportunity of reaching and more importantly affecting many youth so the message not to drink and drive will reach a large audience. Sad he had to learn the hard way but thankfully no one was hurt and like I said he’ll grow from this.

    • StabbyRaccoon

      0.08, so for a big lug like him that’s a few recent drinks. Dumb stuff, I’m sure he didn’t think that he was totally drunk and wouldn’t have been driving if he was, but it’s still a really dumb move. What you said, mistakes like that don’t say a lot about a person’s character besides that they don’t have a big grasp on the seriousness, and we can forgive him but only if he learns his lesson.

      On a related note, we wonder why he’s inconsistent on the court…well he tends to stay out late and drink on his days off. He’s young and strong and can take it but that’s not elite athlete about-to-enter-the-playoffs, possibly future all-star behavior! The rest of the league is really good and you need any edge you can get.

  • GetLicks

    Wow. No raptor player has been in trouble off the court in the longest time (I can’t even remember, if at all). The one day this article is posted and references that fact, the Jonas’ DUI gets reported literally within hours. RR needs to stop jinxing this team!! Lol!

    • jakdripr

      lol I know right? I was thinking that as I read that part of the article. What are the odds? With that said it’s probably not as bad as it sounds.

      • GetLicks

        Yeah I know, it’s not like he pulled a JR Smith. But at the same time, if he gets suspended even for a game or 2 then our chances at the 3 seed take a significant hit with Amir already injured. And to get caught with empty bottles? Ughhh, not a smart move by JV..terrible timing too.

    • GetLicks

      And yes I realize Keon Clark had his troubles with the law, but that was long after he left the raps.

  • asifyouknow

    Kevin Ollie new Toronto coach!!!!

  • Roarque

    Could I recommend that the Raptors team suspend Jonas Valanciunis immediately. Taking a proactive approach in this situation will send a positive message that the days of accepting this sort of behaviour are long gone. There must be zero tolerance for a person in his position as a role model.
    Having said that I sympathize with the situation Jonas finds himself in. He needs to accept that he is held to a very high standard in exchange for the position that our society has put him.

  • F the cops

    F*ck the OPP – canada doesnt want a winning bball team – they just want to torchure baketball fans – im calling BS on this dui – slap the kid on the wrist and move on – horrible timing for this – i hate cops

  • Tamberlyn Richardson

    Just as a a follow up to the DUI Jonas Valanciunas received on the day this article ran: Comments by the team were they would not hold out JV and would wait until the League ruled on the matter (which won’t occur until after he goes to court). Typically players and coaches (Jason Kidd earlier this season) receive 2 game suspensions if charged. What is likely to happen IF it turns out he was the driver and is charged is he’ll do community service, lose his license and game wise receive a 2 game suspension. Although the first court date is set for April 22 (likely to set the actual trial date) it’s likely his lawyers would try to have his date set for after the playoffs if possible.

    I’m not trying to say he should be given special privileges, though I do hope the team doesn’t end up suffering for his error in judgement by losing him 2 games in the playoffs.

    To that end, the franchise, his team mates, upper management etc have all banded around the young center which does speak to the camaraderie on this team as I stated in the article. For his part Valanciunas hasn’t spoken to the media as he hasn’t retained council as of yet. However the team, Casey and Ujiri have all stated he feels terrible, is embarrassed and believes he let down his team, the fans and the franchise. He made a mistake and it’s likely he learn a huge lesson from it.