After seeing their three-game winning streak come to an end in a deflating, triple-overtime loss to the Washington Wizards last Thursday, the Toronto Raptors bounced back on Sunday with one of their most impressive victories of the season. Led by DeMar DeRozan‘s 32-point performance, the Raptors dealt Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors a 104-98 loss in the late-afternoon affair, and have begun the week with a four-game edge atop the Atlantic Division.
But in the short time that’s passed since former GM Bryan Colangelo‘s tanking-related comments were littered throughout the media, it’s been somewhat difficult for anyone involved with the franchise to ignore the obvious.
In this case, the elephant in the room directly relates to the fact that Toronto has earned an unwelcome reputation over the past few years for its inability to find the key to second-half success. In fact, barring a collapse of record-setting proportions, the Raptors look as though they’ll be heading to the postseason for the first time since Chris Bosh bolted out of town in favor of warmer climates.
Before Toronto secures a ticket to the playoffs, however, the Atlantic Division leaders will need to ensure that they capitalize on opportunities such as the one lost against the Wizards last Thursday. Even more importantly, if they’re unable to do so, the inexperienced Raptors must possess the ability to learn from their collective mistakes and quickly move forward.
Now 33-26 overall and 17-12 at the Air Canada Center, Toronto has beaten seven of its past nine opponents and hasn’t looked back since surpassing the .500 mark in early January. Even with their recent run of success however, the Raptors’ current position in the conference is becoming more precarious by the day.
Currently on a rare four-day layoff, Toronto’s most pressing concern begins and ends with it’s potential position in the upcoming playoffs. With a 3.5-game lead over the charging Brooklyn Nets, however, a division title once considered to be in the bag is no longer a foregone conclusion.
At the moment, the Raptors are locked in a battle with the Chicago Bulls for third in the East with the Wizards not far behind. Considering that just 3.5 games separate Toronto, Chicago, Washington and Brooklyn, the outcome of a single contest could dramatically affect the pairings in the opening round of the playoffs.
Despite having their six-game winning streak snapped on Monday and losing resident big man Nene to injury for the next five weeks, the surging Wizards have given more than one playoff-bound foe headaches recently. And even after losing Derrick Rose for the season, the Bulls have continued to receive key contributions from unlikely offensive threats such as Mike Dunleavy Jr. and former Raptor D.J. Augustin.
Fortunately for the Raptors, only seven of their final 23 games will come against teams that owned a winning record at the end of February. And after going 22-14 versus conference opponents, Toronto can take solace in the fact that it still has 16 games remaining against the East.
With a firm hold on the division, a core of young talent, and one of the most well-rounded rosters in franchise history, the Raptors seem to have finally begun a new chapter north of the border and given basketball fans in Canada a reason to start breathing a little easier.