The Packed House: Feelin’ the Pulse of Raptorland

With the season in full effect and the Rockets on deck, let’s have a conversation before tonight gets out of control.

As far as compelling storylines go, it’s safe to say times like these have been few and far between. Even when thinking back to the days of Mighty Mouse lighting the torch, Vince opening the door, or the what-if legacy Chris Bosh left behind, there really hasn’t been a time when there’s been this many to write about. Not to mention how the vast majority of options represent an overwhelmingly positive situation. And considering the fact that numerous fans, pundits and writers far and wide were predicting an uneventful year back in October, the season’s plot development has become that much more powerful.

So, let’s see here, where do I even begin… I mean, how much time do you have? I say we start with the short list and see where it takes us. Besides, the game of the year (potentially) is just hours away as we speak.

Option A: Mob City

I could make everyone’s favourite group of young guns the focal point. One that now includes (in half the minutes, mind you) Jakob Poeltl ranking second to Anthony Davis in blocks per game since the All-Star break. Actually, they deserve a better description: How about a crew of bench players that have made the rest of the NBA envious by essentially transforming the Raps into a slump-proof squad. In other words, even though most of the Raps’ depth would probably need to google the answer to an early ’90s trivia question, their strength in numbers makes the odds of all their inexperience showing up on the same night extremely slim. If it hasn’t been Delon Wright creating havoc in passing lanes, Fred Van Vleet’s motor and shooting ability have been there to pick up the slack. Whenever Pascal Siakam’s overzealous energy level is too much for the moment, Poeltl’s fundamentals and poise have had his back. Which, and perhaps most importantly, has created a nightly cushion to help minimize the effect of any starter having an off night. Case in point:

Let’s not fail to connect the Dwane Casey dots, though.

Option B: The Casey Files

With the youngsters set up to play a vital role no matter what beforehand, one might feel the need to argue that Casey’s All-Star level of success has just been along for the ride. A byproduct by default, if you will. However, something tells me there’s no longer a 50/50 split when it comes to his job security. His balancing act between managing minutes, sticking to his defensive guns, and embracing a new offensive mindset should have already nipped his former scapegoat status in the bud. Furthermore, Jerry Stackhouse’s 905 resume continues to impress, so keeping him in the fold should be a priority. But are we still losing sleep over him potentially getting poached?

Which reminds me, all of this Casey talk only lends itself to a man who just put on a display in Detroit.

Or, if you prefer, the two-handed posterizing of Anthony Tolliver at the end of regulation followed by the clutch assist on Van Vleet’s game-winning three in OT. 

Option C: Discussing DeMar

In many ways, DeRozan’s story is similar to Casey’s. You know, the one about how despite his game growing year by year and piece by piece, a high percentage of the peanut gallery refused to let up on his shortcomings. Well, until the year he legitimately entered the MVP conversation, that is. And that’s not just recency bias talking. Look, I get it, we can still poke holes in his late-game shot selection, moments of disinterest on defense, and his recent infatuation with the refs. But to still be evolving nearly a decade into one’s career is worthy of being the headliner all its own.

Let’s not take this year’s edition for granted, either, especially when his story off the court gives you every reason not to. With that said, does anyone think the Raps would be where they are if DeMar didn’t prove himself behind the arc while upping the ante on getting others involved?

Now, if you’ve stayed with me this long, you might have come to same conclusion. 

Option D: The Common Denominator. AKA: It’s us.

To be honest, my initial concept for this column was to write the final round of my previous Delon Wright vs. Bobby Portis debates. What can I say, I’m looking for closure. But it didn’t take long to notice a Raptors-Rockets matchup lurking in the background. A fight that represents two teams seemingly on the cusp of stepping out of their respective Cleveland and Golden State shadows. The kicker, though, is seeing that thought morph into an expectation by each fan base. Well, and Charles Barkley.

Now, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We all invest too much time, money and emotions in this team for anyone to come along and dictate how you should experience your fandom. Hell, there’s plenty to be said about just enjoying the ride. Letting hope guide your head isn’t always a bad thing, particularly if that hope is realistic. I’ll just try not to get arrested if the Raps do indeed make that Finals’ jump.

The only thing I can recommend is to keep names like Norman Powell and Kyle Lowry in mind whenever you need a bit of perspective. Yes, Norm’s performance in Detroit suggests a wake-up call is well within his sights, but he’s also a reminder of just how far an expectation can fall. Lowry on the other hand, points to just how far this franchise has come. Getting lost in the attention shuffle has come with benefits. With less of a need to be the catalyst, we’ve gotten an across the board contributor with a better chance of staying healthy (knock on wood).

He may have lost the Alpha Dog role to DeMar, but that just speaks to the beauty of this season. Cause regardless of what happens to the rotation in the playoffs, a team concept is in full effect more than ever before, both on the court and in the seats. “Kyle Lowry Over Everything” was never directed at his own team anyway.

Hey Friday night, let’s get it.

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