Toronto Raptors Need Big Week For Any Hope of Saving the Season

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

The 6-19 Toronto Raptors are about to begin a make-or-break week for the team’s 2012-13 season.

Toronto’s three games this week will determine if there’s still air left in the balloon or if the final nail of the coffin has been hammered down.

The Raptors begin the week Tuesday, visiting the 5-20 Cleveland Cavaliers, return home the next night to host the 7-20 Detroit Pistons, and finish off the week’s schedule Friday Dec. 21 with the 11-13 Orlando Magic in town. Toronto needs to finish the week with a winning record to maintain any hope of salvaging the season, a 1-2 record would not be acceptable.

The Raptors went 3-1 against the Cavaliers last year with both teams maintaining the core of those teams this season. They won both games in Cleveland and will need to start strong because there’s no doubt Kyrie Irving and the boys haven’t forgotten that. More importantly, Toronto needs to start strong because they haven’t won a road game in their past 11 attempts.

Cleveland comes into the game with two wins in their past 14 games, meaning the Raptors have to take advantage of a struggling team. For the better part of the season, Toronto has been the struggling team being taken advantage of, and the team needs a role reversal against the Cavaliers to get the week off to a good start.

The Cleveland game is important because the two games that follow will be that much harder to win even though they’re on home court.

Toronto has lost three straight to the Pistons dating back to last year, as the Detroit bigs ate the Raptors alive down low in the teams’ previous meeting this season. Greg Monroe had 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Andre Drummond had one of the best games of his early career with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Given Toronto’s weak interior defense, this game will likely be the hardest for the Raptors to come out with a victory, especially considering the team’s struggles to contain Brandon Knight in the first match-up .

If the Raptors do fall to the Pistons, then the game against the Magic will be that much more important if the team wants to keep their head above water. With Dwight Howard long gone from Orlando, playing the Magic is no longer as terrifying for Toronto fans, given the way he used to single-handedly out-rebound the entire Raptors team. The team has already beaten the Magic this season, picking up a 97-86 win on Nov. 18 in Toronto. Much like Cleveland, there is no doubt Orlando will be looking for revenge after the loss; however, luckily for Raptors fans, the Magic have no one who can guard DeMar DeRozan.

DeRozan recorded 20 points and nine rebounds in the first game of the season, while Jose Calderon finished with nine points and 18 assists. Orlando is one of the few teams in the league that favors Toronto from a match-up point of view.

Kyle Lowry said a few weeks ago that the team wasn’t six feet under, but they were five feet and needed to pick up their play in a hurry. Since then the Raptors have continued to struggle but have improved the team’s defense in recent games. Regardless, the team is still about five and a half feet under at this point, maybe even five and three-quarters.

The one benefit for the Raptors is that after the game against Cleveland, they have nine of the next 12 games at home. Five of those 12 games will be against the four teams directly above them in the standings, with four being on home court. This is the one chance in the schedule the Raptors have to try and save the season – playing against the team’s they need to catch in the standings.

If Toronto can’t start this opportunity with at least a 2-1 record this week, then the hole will be too much for the team to overcome. If that ends up being the case, then the shovel can start padding the dirt on top of the Raptors’ 2012-13 season.

Michael covers ACC and Big East basketball along with the Toronto Raptors for Rant Sports, you can follow him on Twitter @MichaelxRoberts

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