The post-season is just days away, which includes two home games and three road matches.
The Raptors are ready now and if it’s all the same to the NBA powers that be, they’d like to skip to the playoffs now. Obviously that is not going to happen but it gives us an excuse to present their case just the same.
Below are five reasons the Raptors would like to forego the remaining portion of the regular season schedule.
1. NOTHING LEFT TO PROVE
Sure they can fine tune a few things and maybe even try out one or two things more, but this is a team that has established itself and little is going to change between now and April 13 when the Raptors playoff run is expected to begin at home against one of Detroit, Brooklyn, Miami or Orlando.
That, the identify of their actual opponent, is the only thing really left to decide. Marc Gasol, if he wasn’t comfortable the day he got here, certainly is now. Even if he’s not, his basketball IQ is such that whatever the coaching staff asks of him he’ll pick up immediately.
About the only thing left to accomplish for this time isn’t really an accomplishment as much as it is an identification. That would be identifying that ninth man who can log minutes for Nurse in the playoffs. The thumb injury to Patrick McCaw appears to have taken him out of the running at least initially for those minutes, though if Norm Powell does what he is capable of doing and plays within his abilities, it’s hard to see anyone else filling that ninth man role.
2. ONLY BAD THINGS CAN HAPPEN
Any Raptors fans with any memory at all can recall Miami’s Bam Adebayo rocking Fred VanVleet with a blind screen and essentially knocking him out of the Raptors’ first round of the playoffs a year ago.
VanVleet returned and managed to have a huge impact on the sixth and clinching game of the series vs. Washington, but he was not the VanVleet the team or the fanbase had come to count on.
The shoulder injury continued to hamper him throughout the four-game sweep by Cleveland. Saturday night in Chicago a similar scenario was close to unfolding. As VanVleet let fly with a three-point attempt late in the fourth quarter, guard Ryan Arcidiacono’s momentum as he came out to get a hand up in front of the shot took him right under VanVleet who came down on the Bulls’ guard’s foot. VanVleet wasn’t so angry at the opponent as he was at the officials who didn’t see fit to call a foul on a potentially dangerous play.
It was similar, though not near as intentional on the opponent’s part to Kawhi Leonard’s ankle injury in the Spurs series with Golden State a couple of seasons ago. Leonard came down on Zaza Pachulia’s foot that was or was not intentionally stuck there for Leonard to land on. It was a series-changing moment and had VanVleet’s ankle, which appears to have avoided a bad fate on this occasion this would have been another.
3. THE BALL IS HOPPING NOW
We actually don’t see this changing that much, but three is a strong argument to be made for going into the playoffs when you are at your absolute best and the Raptors passing game may be there right now.
In New York the Raptors put up 32 assists. In Chicago it was up to 35. The ball is moving and the Raptors are going from good shot to great shot on just about every possession. Credit Gasol for a large part of this but also give credit to the Raptors’ coaching staff which is putting an emphasis on ball movement. Once the ball starts moving, the act is contagious.
The absence of Leonard, who is a supremely gifted scorer and a guy who the Raptors have no problems putting the ball in his hands and letting him go to work, most definitely played a role in the big assist numbers these past two games, so upon his return expect for them to slide a little. But there’s little question that ball movement, even with Leonard in the lineup, is at its peak right now in Toronto and it’s always nice to start your most important games playing at your peak.
4. EVEN THE NEGATIVES ARE TRENDING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
A few games back the Raptors were at least mildly concerned with the direction both their defence and their turnover numbers were trending. That is no longer the case. Over an 13-game stretch from the beginning of March up to and including the win over Chicago last Tuesday, the Raptors had committed 15 or more turnovers in 10 of the 13 games. That’s not a good sign for a team that averages around 14 a night. That too has been cleaned up on this recent two-game road trip where the team averaged just 10 a night in the two games.
Defensively there was that spike in opponent’s three-point makes over three games, two against OKC and one against Charlotte. VanVleet explained how that came to be.
“A lot of it has been just the experiments and just trying different things defensively. Traditionally in the NBA you have a set defensive scheme and this is what we do and we do it every night no matter what. We have been mixing and matching and trying different things for different teams so we have more in our package.”
5. THEY’RE READY
These Raptors know exactly who they are and no amount of games or repetitions or time together on the floor is going to change that. Gasol, as he said post-game on Saturday would not object to starting the playoff run tomorrow. As the most important late season addition — the ball is in his hands these days as much as it is in the hands of either point guard — Gasol of all people would stand to benefit the most from more time to get acclimated. And he will use every second of that, no question. But like his head coach, Gasol would have no reservations about pushing the agenda a bit and moving straight to playoff basketball.
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