Based on years past, it's hard to call the Raptors' 2-3 record on their recent five-game western road trip anything but a success. There were some duds - the loss in Sacramento still stings - but there were lots of good signs, including an opening win in Denver and great play from DeMar DeRozan, who scored 36 points against both Portland and the Clippers.
Thanks to some poor play from the teams just below them in the Eastern Conference standings, the Raptors didn't lose much ground during their trip and still hold third spot in the conference, though it's a rather tenuous grip. (They are only 2.5 games ahead of the seventh place Brooklyn Nets.)
Toronto returns home for one of two games before the All-Star break to take on the New Orleans Pelicans, who are coming off of a loss to the Nets in Brooklyn last night. This Pelicans team is an interesting one, full of intriguing talents but still giving off the sense of a team with no clear identity.
Still, they do have one of the game's premier young talents in Anthony Davis, who has broken out in his second season and uses his Go-Go gadget arms (take a look at the picture accompanying this article if you don't believe me) to devastating effect, leading the league in blocks per game and making good on his limitless potential.
Despite Davis's obvious defensive gifts, the Pelicans struggle on that end as a team, ranking 25th in points allowed per possession. They are tenth in offense and feature several players who can explode on any given night, including Davis, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday.
Still, this is a team that the Raptors can and should beat, especially at home and especially considering New Orleans will be on the second night of a back-to-back. If the Raptors are serious about claiming that third seed in the East these are the types of games they need to win. With two winnable games before the All-Star break (home vs. New Orleans, home vs. Atlanta) and an easy schedule afterwards, the Raptors have a great chance to finally push themselves well above the .500 mark and lay claim to home court advantage in the first round.
It starts tonight.