Playoff Redemption Awaits as Raptors End Regular Season in Record Fashion

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The regular season is officially in the books, and it ended with a record-setting performance. The club’s 49th win to be exact. Not to mention the entertainment value added by keeping one eye on the Hawks-Bulls boxscore, a matchup (with a Toronto victory) that would determine the Raps first-round playoff opponent. And in case you slept on the festivities, clear your Saturday schedule asΒ Paul Pierce and the Wizards will be crossing the border. It’s an early one so set your alarms, and if you plan on indulging in Friday’s nightlife, do yourself a favour and set your PVR accordingly.

It’s a trip to fathom how such a milestone could have been set when this squad’s shortcomings are held at the forefront more often than their achievements. The basketball gods will forever work in mysterious ways (Jae Crowder misses that shot 8 times out of 10), but all in all, the moment deserves its props.

On the other hand, it really is nothing more than a temporary celebration, and the makings of future trivia fodder. The moment will undoubtedly fade in short order, as this team (I can only hope) and its fan base are no longer satisfied with regular season window-dressing.

Is anybody truly going to look back on Kyle Lowry’s All-Star selection and bask in its glow? Perhaps if the push didn’t receive such mass attention (yours truly included) this team would have had their leader operating at optimum levels throughout the latter part of the year. In retrospect, compensating for DeRozan’s absence seemingly took its toll. This is not to make excuses, Lowry is deserving of the second-half static he’s received from his critics. But I digress.

There was, however, a much needed sighting of K-Low’s old bag of tricks last night. More on that in a bit.

With nothing to play for except pride, and a possible spoiler role, the Hornets weren’t exactly the ideal postseason tune-up. Especially without the services of their prominent interior presence, Al Jefferson. On the optimistic side of things, the three nail-biting tilts leading up to Charlotte offered valuable fourth-quarter dramatics. Let us all thank the aforementioned hardwood gods that Randy Wittman doesn’t have the same in-game adjustment plan as one, Brad Stevens.

Mix in Coach Casey’s clipboard, and you’ll have to get your Game of Thrones fix elsewhere.

Raptors vs. Wizards

Which brings us to our expectations for the postseason. Let’s mix a few of the finale’s takeaways with snapshots of the season.

Opportunities to improve upon what ails this team no longer exist, the Raps are now in a bubble. All ill-advised passes from the backcourt (Lowry’s half-court gambles need to stop), each defensive matador impersonation (take your pick), and each pull-up jumper with not a proper-postioned rebounder in sight essentially have to be lived with. We’re all now hanging on by a very thin possession-by-possession thread, and every detail is about to be magnified.

The Wizards’ long-two philosophy can work against them (that sounds familiar), but don’t think John Wall won’t be attacking the rim at will. If the Raps continue to give too much leeway to opposing guards, the NBA’s second in command in the assist department (10.0 APG) will eat the Raps’ “rotations” alive.

Zero trips to the stripe in 34 minutes is not reassuring, but overall DeRozan continued to lead the charge. His own long-two’s have become more methodical, and less detrimental. To paraphrase Dennis Green: “We are who we think we are.” As much as we’ve all grown tiresome of the Raps’ offensive identity, or lack thereof, all parties involved are now forced to get behind the jump-shot mentality. Who am I kidding, at the first sign of it backfiring, feel free to let the hate fly.

This leads to Valanciunas. Sure, guard play can mask a team’s inefficiencies inside, but there might not be a more important player going into battle with Washington. JV still lacks toughness, awareness (at both ends), and still offers predictable low-post moves, but the concerning difference between the 26th overall rebounding squad (Raps) and the 8th overall (Wash) is a weakness-gap that needs to be addressed.

The minute experiment went on for far too long, and this front-court is not as prepared for the second season as they could be. On the bright side, a sense of offensive renewal came forth vs. the Hornets, and the defensive prowess of Gortat, Seraphin, and Kris Kardashian is manageable. It would be disappointing if the Raptors continue with their business as usual game-plan, as in, kick it inside, kick it back outside, then the perimeter decides to improvise when they should be going right back in when established position presents itself.

As for No. 7, Lowry’s timing cut it razor thin. His shooting woes took a backseat, carelessness was not completely removed, but it’s heading in the right direction, and the defensive intensity that made him such a popular figure in this town made a cameo appearance. Whether a trend is occurring, or the rust will rear its ugly head yet again is anybody’s guess, but I think a calming faith has been installed. Especially when you drop 6 treys with the majority of them falling within a proper ball-moving half-court set, and not in blind transition.

Will JJ’s minutes continue to fluctuate? Most likely. Which versions of Vasquez and Lou will show up, the clutch or the mixed bag? I would hedge any bet. Will T-Ross continue to chuck it from downtown and ignore his athletic ability? One can only hope not. Will Psycho-T’s increased minutes remain? At the very least he’s earned it. Amir and Patterson, one walking wounded, the other struggling to find his early season rhythm. Both of which have the potential to make huge impacts on this series. Let’s get this party started already.

In Closing:

A Raps’ legend was in attendance, and Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire deserved every bit of that standing ovation and then some. The very first Raptor to help open the eyes of the mainstream on what this city has to offer to the basketball community. For the new school fans, I suggest a film session. For all the old schoolers, a sight for sore eyes to help jumpstart the playoffs.

Madness is upon us. Seven games, anyone?


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