Given their play so far this season, with Dwane Casey’s team currently sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference standings, it is safe to say that the Toronto Raptors are continuing to protect their place near the top of the division. With a 19-8 record, including a recent demolition of the Orlando Magic, the Raptors have built upon their success from last year, and in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, they undoubtedly have two of the best offensive players around. Toronto have become one of the best shooting teams in terms of percentage, along with making it to the free-throw line as much as any of their competitors, as well as being one of the best at limiting turnovers. So, what else must the Raptors do in order to finally challenge for the NBA title?
Having reached the NBA Conference Finals for the first time in their history, seeing off the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat in the process, the Raptors eventually went down to eventual winners the Cleveland Cavaliers, and despite another solid start to the season, the Cavs continue to be unbeatable for Toronto. Toronto has lost all three games against the East’s top team this season, and when you include last season’s Eastern Conference Final, the Raptors have lost seven of their last Air Canada Centre. With statistics showing that teams hoping to reach the NBA Finals need to win 56 regular season matches, including 31 at home, the Raptors need to find a way to overcome such opposition.
Head coach Casey has put his team’s success last year down to their defence, however it is the Raptors offence that has been firing this season, even surpassing the Golden State Warriors in the statistics. The Raptors have the 12th best defence in the league at present, compared to third from last season, a fact that could well come back to haunt them if they have hopes of matching, or even improving upon last season’s heights. The Raptors will be hoping that Lowry and DeRozan can continue their scoring form, with an average points per game of 24.4 from a team’s top scorer needed to reach the NBA Finals, based on previous years outcomes.
With the trade season looming, there are still a few underlying questions that need answering as far as the Raptors are concerned. The power forward position has been in flux for the Raptors over the past couple of seasons, with General manager, and now president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri opting for short-term rentals such as Luis Scola over big-name signings. Of course, Patrick Patterson is the exception to this rule, although the former Sacramento King fails to command as much court time as many expected. Jared Sullinger’s foot injury this season has left the Raptors without their projected starter, and many fans are calling for fresh blood on the roster to give them a fighting chance of further success.