With a 105-97 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, the Toronto Raptors have reached 50 wins for the first time in franchise history.
It was a quality win, as they stopped a red-hot Hawks team with a strong two-way performance, slowing down a decent offense and sharing the ball to help find opportunities against the league’s No. 2 defense. They let a huge lead nearly slip away and had to lean on their core guys a bit too much, but hey, these are the Raptors, that’s what they do. And Atlanta’s really good. This is the second time during Atlanta’s ridiculous stretch of play that the Raptors have stymied the Hawks, despite the Hawks, on paper, appearing to be designed to exploit some of the Raptors’ weaknesses. It was a good win, and an important one, even to hear the Raptors tell it.
“I think it matters, just because this franchise has never got 50 wins. We’ve been close the last two years, and it’s a big part of the NBA, to get 50 wins,” star point guard Kyle Lowry said last Tuesday. “I can’t even keep the poker face on that one. Getting 50 wins is important to us.”
DeRozan on setting franchise record for three years in a row. "It's great!" pic.twitter.com/tDJjqthGiG
— Raptors Republic (@raptorsrepublic) March 31, 2016
It’s remarkable that the Raptors have done so here on March 30, with eight games left to play, considering they couldn’t manage to win 50 in any of the 20 seasons (18 of them full) that preceded this one. Last year’s Raptors came close, winning a team-record 49 games. The year prior, another then-record, with 48 wins. Prior to this current core’s three-year stretch, the best regular-season stretch the team’s ever known, the team had only twice mustered 47 wins and have only even gone .500 in five of 18 seasons.
It’s also notable because the Raptors just became the penultimate NBA franchise to reach the mark. Only the Charlotte Hornets, whose history technically goes back to include 50-win seasons from the pre-move-and-expand iteration but who haven’t won 50 games since rejoining the league, remain without a 50-win season on the ledger. Depending on how you choose to twist history, maybe the Raptors are the very last team to do so. Technically, the Raptors are the last team to do so, as the Hornets officially reclaimed their old history a few years back, but you see different people go different ways on that kind of thing. In any case, they’ve done it, finally.
This, while some other franchises have as many as 32 50-win seasons, and some have 19 (!!) since the Raptors joined the league (keep in mind, two of those 21 seasons were shortened and one hasn’t finished yet).
It would be very difficult to argue that this isn’t the best regular season in Raptors history. Not only have they pushed past their previous win total, I’m not sure confidence has been this high since the Vince Carter years, assuming Lowry manages to reach the postseason healthy. It’s just the second time the franchise has made the playoffs in three consecutive years, too, and while everything will be measured in terms of playoff success, this Raptors outfit is more ready for the postseason than any in a long, long time. (Again, assuming health, which, yeah, let’s just appreciate No. 50 right now.)
Consider that the Raptors have managed this record with DeMarre Carroll playing in just 23 games and Jonas Valanciunas missing 21, with a roster that was originally expected to be one-third development projects with little room for injury error, and it’s even more impressive. The Raptors own a top-10 offense and a borderline top-10 defense, far more balanced than they were a season ago. They have two All-Stars for just the second time ever and two legitimate All-Stars for just the first, with DeMar DeRozan set for a max contract and Lowry staking his claim for the second best peak as a Raptor. Both players will push their way into the “best Raptor ever” conversation with a deep playoff run and another season or two of sustained success to further assault the team’s recordbooks.
Quite frankly, there’s never been a better time to be a Raptors fan. (Yes, even if you’re still worried about the playoffs.)