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The Toronto Raptors have had their fair share of regular season success in the NBA. Unfortunately, the team who has become a consistent finisher near the top of the NBA’s Eastern Conference, hasn’t been able to translate their regular season success into playoff success. The Puck Line investigates if the Canadian Raptors can finally soar to victory in 2016 MBA…
The Raptors have been an NBA franchise for 21 seasons now, as they were originally created back before the 1995-96 season. In that inaugural season, Toronto posted a 21-61 record, their second-worst ever.
They’ve come a long way from that point to the current 2015-16 season, which has featured them posting their best win-loss record at 56-26. Surprisingly, this is the sixth year in a row that the Raptors have actually improved their record.
Toronto has posted the following records over the past six seasons:
As you can tell, the improvement is obviously there for the Raptors, and they’ll now head into the 2016 NBA playoffs with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, just one game behind LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
While this has been a massively impressive season for the Raptors, it still poses the question of whether or not this team can finally find playoff success.
In Toronto’s 21-year history, they’ve made it out of the first round just one time, losing in the Eastern Conference semifinals back in the 2000-01 season.
Aside from that, the Raptors have made the playoffs six other times, including each of the last two seasons, but were eliminated in the first round on every occasion.
After a a brutally disappointing finish to the 2014-15 season, Toronto heads into the 2016 NBA playoffs looking to make a statement. This is a team who won 49 games and had the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year in Louis Williams last season, yet they were defeated by the Washington Wizards in the first round of the playoffs.
The finish to last year, which was originally the team’s franchise record for most wins in a single season, was a tough one for fans to swallow, but now they head into the playoffs with a full head of steam.
Let’s look at the keys to finding playoff success, as well as the potential shortcomings that the Raptors will deal with as they head into the upcoming postseason.
Toronto’s Offensive Leaders
The Raptors are led by their two stars in shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and point guard Kyle Lowry, and there’s little question about that.
DeRozan has averaged 23.5 points per game this season, while Lowry has averaged 21.2. After those two, it drops to center Jonas Valanciunas, who averaged just 12.8 points, but did bring down 9.1 rebounds per game as well.
The Raptors do have a nice spread of scoring across the rest of their roster after DeRozan and Lowry, though, as five other players average at least 8.5 points per game.
While DeRozan and Lowry will be the focal points of the offense this postseason, other players have the potential to step up and fill in where needed.
Options such as Valanciunas, small forward’s DeMarre Carroll and Terrence Ross, and reserves in power forward Patrick Patterson, point guard Cory Joseph and shooting guard Norman Powell all come to mind.
DeRozan and Lowry may be the leaders, but you don’t get to 56 wins as a team unless you have multiple other players who are capable of stepping up.
Fortunately, Toronto has excellent role players, as well as the ability to shut down opponents at times. The Raptors were the third-best team in one key defensive category, which was opponents points per game allowed, at just 98.2.
Potential Shortcomings for the Raptors
The Raptors have quite a few strong options in their back court, including DeRozan, Lowry, Joseph and Powell. One area where they really need to step up though, will be the consistent production of their big men.
While other teams have major talent at both center and power forward, this will create a few mismatches for the Raptors.
Valanciunas has been strong rebounding the ball, while also averaging 1.33 blocks per game, but after him, the next best rebounder on the roster is backup center Bismack Biyombo.
Players such as Patterson (4.3 rebounds per game) and power forward Luis Scola (4.7 rebounds per game), both need to not only crash the boards, but also need to play stellar defense. If not, they’ll struggle to guard a player like Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love.
Depth won’t be an issue for the Raptors in the 2016 NBA playoffs, but what may be, is their ability to guard opposing big men inside.
Could we potentially see more of a one-two punch of Valanciunas and Biyombo inside? It would be pretty surprising, and Biyombo isn’t a great offensive player, averaging just 5.5 points per game, but the two together could potentially keep opponents from doing heavy damage in the paint.
Can They Win the 2016 NBA Title?
There are many ways to evaluate whether or not a team is a serious title contender, and it’ll start with how the Raptors did against the best teams in the NBA.
Here’s a breakdown of their games against the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and the Cavaliers during the regular season.
|November 17||Golden State||Loss 115-110|
|November 25||Cleveland||Win 103-99|
|December 9||San Antonio||Win 97-94|
|January 4||Cleveland||Loss 122-100|
|February 26||Cleveland||Win 99-97|
|April 2||San Antonio||Loss 102-95|
While the Raptors only faced Golden State once, and it was a close loss, their two home victories over the Cavaliers were impressive.
Obviously, Toronto wouldn’t face the Warriors or Spurs until the NBA Finals, assuming one of those two teams made it that far.
With that said, this shows that Toronto had plenty of success against the top team in the East, the Cavaliers. Add that on to the fact that the Raptors also went 39-13 in conference play this year, and it’s hard to argue with the fact that they very well may be a serious contender to win the East and play for the 2016 NBA championship.
From there, the question would be whether or not the Raptors can beat the Western Conference’s best, and that’ll likely be their toughest test of all.
It’s hard to imagine anyone defeating the Warriors in a seven-game series, but if the Raptors are able to avoid them in the finals, there’s a real chance that Toronto may be able to bring home their first-ever NBA championship.
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