No, Raptor fans, the sky is not falling. It only seems like it right now.
Just as the team was not as good as their 13-2 record to start the season seemed to indicate, they’re also not as bad as their 2-5 record in the last seven games. With their current winning percentage, over an 82 game season, they would win 56 games. That’s better than most predicted at the beginning of the season, so while a four game losing streak is a cause for concern, let’s keep things in perspective, here.
The Raptors do have their problems. Back at the beginning of December, I mentioned three areas the Raptors needed to improve: Passing, defense and rebounding. On the plus side, their passing has improved slightly, but on the downside, both their rebounding and especially their defense has gotten worse. In fact their defense, in the last month, has gone from the top ten to the bottom ten.
There is obviously work to be done, but it’s not time to panic, yet.
Thankfully, the Celtics are coming to town tonight, sans Jeff Green (Memphis) and Brandon Wright (Phoenix), who were traded yesterday (on top of Rajon Rondo obviously heading for Dallas last month). Boston isn’t devoid of talent, especially young talent, but they’ve won exactly half the games the Raptors have in less than half a season. And they’re probably not even as good as that record.
Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Evan Turner and Tyler Zeller are all decent, young players, but it’s doubtful any of them would start for a good playoff team. Tayshaun Prince most likely won’t be making the trip, and Jameer Nelson is shooting just 22% since he came from Dallas and hasn’t been effective on defense since Orlando was a contender.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
The Raptors Defense
This is the worst the Raptors defense has been since Dwane Casey took over, and while preaching defense is one things, practicing it seems to be something else. Inserting Landry Fields into the starting lineup after DeRozan went down was obviously an attempt at improving the defense, but since coming back from a concussion, he hasn’t nearly been as effective and has played limited minutes because of it.
While the front court has had to cover for the perimeter players more than they should, they’re still not blameless. No one in the league is shuddering at the thought of driving in the paint against any Raptor big man and if Ujiri does decide to upgrade, I wouldn’t be surprised if Amir, Hansbrough or Patterson move on.
After a four game losing streak, no one would be surprised to see a change in the starting lineup to shake things up. Replacing Landry Fields with either Lou Williams or James Johnson is a possibility, but the team was no better when Fields was out with injury, so it’s possible only Lowry and Valanciunas are safe.
Casey is under real fire for the first time since his first season with the Raptors. And undeservedly so. He needs to make some adjustments, to be sure, but he also needs to be given a little more time before people start calling for his head.
Let’s be clear, the Celtics roster doesn’t compare to the Raptors, starters, or bench. Brad Stevens is a good coach, but he’s handcuffed by the lack of talent, and it’s only getting worse as Danny Ainge ships off all the veterans worth trading.
This certainly could be a danger game for the Raptors. After four straight losses, and a depleted Celtics team on the second game of a back-to-back, it would be too easy for the Raptors to assume things will finally go their way and not put up the effort they should. That’s something Casey or Lowry can’t let happen.
Score: Raptors 108 – Celtics 97