Moral victories: 3. Actual victories: 2 

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Photo Courtesy: Twitter / @NBA Twitter

“We played our asses off every night out. (sigh). It’s tough, man.” – Nick Nurse

There’s a reason they’re the players and we’re the blog-boys and girls. It’s not the skill. That’s obvious. It’s the resilience. The ability to compartmentalize.

To absorb a mountain of criticism calling your All-NBA Season an aberration, and trust the work to get your game back on track. To know your coach is experimenting with unproven players, while you fight to keep your record from spiralling out of control. To deal with having to play Alex Len or Aron Baynes.

To score 16 fourth quarter points after missing the prior game for apparently serious (but publicly unknown) personal reasons. To take the promising aspects of a gut-wrenching loss to the Warriors the night before, and leave the self-inflicted wounds in Golden State. To play a perfect first 16 minutes in Portland, blow a double digit lead by early in the third quarter, and rip off a 12-0 run right then and there. To blow a seven point lead midway through the fourth quarter, ride the wave of Damian Lillard and CJ Mccollum catching fire, go down four in the final two minutes, only to re-take the lead on pure guts.

Take all that perseverance and use it as proof that the Raptors can recover from a second straight one-point loss. Also take solace in several positive trends.

Pascal Siakam is good at basketball again. An early no-look behind-the-back pass to Chris Boucher might have signified that he’s officially “back”, but he’d already scored 10 points off quintessential mid-post buckets. Siakam’s reads were sublime for the entire road trip. Immediate double team recognition, pinpoint one-handed passes, spoon feeding Stanley Johnson buckets – all culminating in his first career triple double in Portland.

“He’s back to playing the way we used to see him playing a year ago,” Nurse said. Siakam averaged 24 points on 53 FG%, 10.5 rebounds and seven assists over the Raptors’ four games / six nights West Coast swing. “His creation. Getting to the basket, getting other people involved in some cuts and some kickouts. Just an overall gait that looks better. There’s some speed up the floor. There’s much better movement and connectivity on defence. Just playing all around like he’s capable of.”

Not sure how most Raptors fans feel, but last season, whenever Boucher made a three it was almost hilarious. How could someone with that form consistently make a shot beyond two feet? Is Boucher really a 40+% three point shooter, on a decent volume? Who knows, but he’s supplemented the presumably unsustainable with some reliability – six rebounds, 2.6 blocks and 58 FG% in just 20 minutes a game. On Monday – Boucher’s 28th birthday – he hit a career-high five threes, grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots.

Perhaps an unheralded development – it seems OG Anunoby can make an open corner three, going 3-for-5 from that spot on Monday. Carmelo Anthony was not honouring this shot, which made sense, since Anunoby has already gone through multiple shooting droughts. But if OG can’t be left alone, the offence will be unlocked.

Yes, there are problems to be ironed out. The Raptors have blown five double digit leads in nine games. The offence famined hard in the mid-to-latter stages of the fourth quarter on Monday, conceding their seven point lead with a 10-0 run against while only generating three difficult three point attempts. And they can’t seem to win close games. But, really, great teams aren’t built on pulling out one possession wins. And if the ball just bounced in rather than in-and-out a few times, the Raptors are hovering around .500.

And it’s not a trend, but with little incentive to gun for home court advantage in the playoffs, and the play-in game adding two pseudo-playoff spots, 2-and-8 isn’t as problematic as usual. Plus an upcoming back-to-back against the Hornets should bring the Raptors a reprieve from the free-fall.

So while the shortened season leaves the Raptors with a slimmer margin for error, there’s enough time for the actual victories to outstrip the moral ones.

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