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73 Down, Nine to Go - The HQ Looks at the Raptors' Final Stretch

It hasn't exactly been a banner season for the Toronto Raptors to date, but the HQ has some thoughts on how to end things on a bright note...

It doesn't seem that long ago that all of us here at the HQ were getting ready for another season of Raptors basketball.

Sure, none of us expected the team to make the playoffs, but there were some things to be excited about, namely the potential of some of the club's youngsters, and the start of the post-Bosh era.

Unfortunately after a decent start, the injury bug hit, the schedule toughened up, and the Raptors with nine games left in their 2010-11 season are on pace to win only 23 games, almost half as many as they won a year ago.

Was this a "wasted season?"

There's certainly an argument to be made to that effect considering the lack of improvement from players like Sonny Weems and Andrea Bargnani, not to mention the fact that the defence is once again worst in the league.

However the time for that discussion is still a few weeks away, and this afternoon I thought I'd look at three ways in which the season might end on a positive note for Raptors' fans.

Let's start with the lottery.

1)  The Raptors secure one of the league's bottom 3 records.

This is a big one.  With Washington winning last night, the Toronto Raptors are now only a half game up on Sacramento for the league's fourth worst record, and two games up on the Wizards for third-worst.  A bottom three finish would give Toronto a very nice shot at a top three pick in the draft, and with really three top prospect options in my books (Irving, Williams and Barnes), getting into that mix is huge.

As noted though last week, a bottom four record will be tough enough to achieve let alone a bottom three record, based on the remaining schedules of Toronto, Washington and Sacramento.  However if Toronto benches guys like Evans, Barbosa and even the banged up Amir Johnson for the last group of games, a third or fourth mark could be within their grasp.

This leads me to my next "upside" bullet...

2)  Play the kids.

Here's something that's been bugging me recently about this season.

Outside of DeRozan and Ed Davis, can we say that any other player on the Raptor has shown substantial developmental progress?

Maybe Amir Johnson?

However Sonny Weems has regressed, Jerryd Bayless rarely gets to play through his struggles, Julian Wright was brought in for a look and has barely played, same with Joey Dorsey, and even projects like Alabi and Ajinca are essentially MIA.

Look, we know what Barbosa can do.  We know what Reggie Evans brings to the table.

But can we say for certain that most of this team is worth "keeping?"  Toronto can't keep overhauling their entire roster each off-season, so at some point the club needs to get a good idea of who to hang onto, and who to throw to the wolves.

Just a thought but how about doing this in the last nine games of the season?

3)  Try something new.

I realize that sounds like a bit of a catch-all, but the same old, same old hasn't worked.

It's equaled 20 wins, and as mentioned above, a league-worst team defensively.

So over this final stretch of matches, why not try using players in different ways?  This ties into point number two in terms of giving the youngsters a shot as maybe Triano finds ways to utilize new combinations of players, or guys at different positions on the court.

James Johnson in post-ups?

Why not?

Ed Davis at the 3 in a bigger line-up?


Andrea Bargnani as the starting 2 guard?  Isn't that his position in reality anyways?

Ok so I'm joking about the last one there but the point is that there's no better time than now to get some of these youngsters off the bench, into some more action, and into some other roles.  The team needs to have a clear-cut vision of what it needs to do this off-season, in particular with a bit of a murky looking draft on the horizon.

Would these moves guarantee an 0 and 9 finish?

Perhaps...but the point of this is to improve for the following seasons and as mentioned, a winless finish would certainly be a boost to the team's draft chances.

Besides, the Raps take on the Cavs, Nets and probably a "Big 3-less" Heat club in their final five matches.

Barring a starting line-up of Bayless, Barbosa, Wright, Dorsey and Alabi, it seems pretty certain that Toronto gets at least one W in there...