The argument could be made.
It's likely not a completely compelling argument, but nevertheless, it could be made.
With their 100 to 98 win over the Indiana Pacers Friday night, the Toronto Raptors find themselves seven and a half games back of the Milwaukee Bucks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. The win was a big one, and you could say that if the club, with 32 games left on their schedule, was going to make a run, now was the time.
Again, considering their .500ish play the past six weeks or so, the club would need a major win streak, hence the second sentence above. As SBNaiton's Tom Ziller noted yesterday, the club has to go 23 and 9 just to hit .500 by season's end, a ridiculous .718 pace.
The team hasn't shown any signs of being able to go on such a run, but today's match against the 17 and 33 New Orleans Hornets would be a good start.
Here are our three keys for a Toronto win:
1) Get the Job Done on D. Despite their feeble record, the New Orleans Hornets can put points on the board. They currently rank 15th in the league in offensive efficiency as the return of Eric Gordon has given this club a nice shot in the arm. Even the though Raptors are slightly ahead in this metric, they trail the Hornets in terms of true shooting percentage, so given the opportunity, NO can certainly score in a myriad of fashions.
However it's the other side of the ball that helps explain the Hornets' record. They club ranks 27th in defensive efficiency and allows opponents to score nearly 100 points a night. If the Raps play the superior D on this evening, I think they come away with the win.
2) ACC vs Big East. Had to put a college note in here after yesterday's spectacular slew of games. (Slightly glad I turned on the Louisville - Notre Dame match with about five minutes left in regulation.) The note though touches on the conferences of tonight's two starting point guards, the Hornets' Greivis Vasquez, formerly of Maryland, and the Raptors' Kyle Lowry, formerly of Villanova, two floor generals that have had very different seasons.
Vasquez is having a terrific one, emerging as one of the league's premiere passers (9.4 assists per contest), while Lowry has struggled to establish his identity in Toronto. The winner of this battle tonight I bet goes a long way in determining the club that comes out with the W.
3) Finish Strong. Against the Pacers, we saw something from this Toronto Raptors team that we hadn't seen in a while. Or...at all. A club that finished strong. Despite what looked like another loss, the Raps fought the Pacers tooth-and-nail till the very end, and...well...we saw the result.
Amir Johnson exemplifies said effort and no surprise then that he was the catalyst for the club in terms of getting to OT. He and the rest of his teammates need to put in that sort of closing effort once more to avoid the situation that occurred last time these teams met. The Raps looked to have a sure victory in hand on December 28 but it was the Hornets that came charging back, forcing overtime and nearly coming away with the win.
Let's just say that today I'm looking for more of a Pacers-type finale.
Minus some of the drama...