Back in July, I did my annual post, breaking down Toronto's potential number of wins in the upcoming season, based on the then recently released NBA schedule.
As of the end of December, I had put Toronto's record at 10 wins, and 21 losses.
With last night's 104 to 97 overtime win over the New Orleans Hornets, the Toronto Raptors have won 10 games, and lost 20. With a road win tonight against the Orlando Magic, who lost last night to the Washington Gen...er...Wizards, the Dinos will actually find themselves a win ahead of the pace I had set.
And that's without Kyle Lowry for big chunks of the season, Landry Fields at all, and well...yes, the Andrea Bargnani I expected.
So while last night's tenth win of the season in 30 tries is hardly anything to write home about, it does in fact mean the team is still on pace for the 37-win season I had laid out in that post. Obviously with 52 games left, things could still go incredibly sour, but as of now, the club, despite what seemed like a horrific start, is still marching towards a respectable finish, especially with the bulk of the club's roughest schedule behind them.
The win last night over New Orleans wasn't pretty, the team's pick-and-roll defence down the stretch in regulation nearly allowed NO to sneak away with a win, but it exemplified their recent success; this was a Toronto team taking advantage of relatively weak competition, and beating the teams they had on paper, the best chance of beating.
I'm not sure it's much more complex than that.
As I noted in the preview to yesterday's match, these were two teams that weren't so different statistically, and therefore it was no surprise that the match came down to the wire. Much like recent wins over Detroit and Orlando, the Raps had a bit more on the talent side (hard to argue the Raps executed better in any of these matches) and that won out in the end. Players like DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry made big shots in the final minutes of overtime, redeeming some of their late-game shortcomings, and the Hornets simply didn't have an answer, despite numerous opportunities.
The Hornets' overtime shot results went a bit like this in fact:
|93-91||Greivis Vasquez misses 26-foot three point jumper|
|93-91||Anthony Davis misses 13-foot jumper|
|95-91||Greivis Vasquez misses layup|
|95-91||Greivis Vasquez misses layup|
|95-93||Ryan Anderson makes 2-foot two point shot|
|98-93||Anthony Davis misses 11-foot jumper|
That's a nice 1 for 6 stretch and while that was followed up by two Brian Roberts' free-throws, the Hornets then had this beautiful sequence:
|0:31||102-95||Austin Rivers enters the game for Lance Thomas|
|0:18||102-95||Brian Roberts misses 26-foot three point jumper|
|0:16||102-95||Ryan Anderson offensive rebound|
|0:12||102-95||Austin Rivers misses 24-foot three point jumper|
|0:11||102-95||Ryan Anderson offensive rebound|
|0:11||102-97||Ryan Anderson misses tip shot|
|0:11||102-97||Ryan Anderson makes 2-foot two point shot|
When it takes you four tries to get one shot to go down in a game's closing moments of a tightly-contested affair, that's not a good thing.
I'm not sure we need to go into too much more detail to recap this one.
DeMar DeRozan gets the game star for his 30 point night. His 9 for 22 shooting from the field wasn't great, but getting to the line 13 times made for a much better box score.
The free throws were huge because the Hornets actually posted the superior effective field goal percentage, and were the superior rebounding club on the night. But those extra freebies, and the Raps ability to take care of the ball helped the club come away with the win.
Throw in some solid individual performances from Amir Johnson, Kyle Lowry and Alan Anderson off the pine and there you have it. Win number 10.
Tonight then the club looks for win number 11 as they take on the Orlando Magic.
The Raptors have another good chance at a win but to be sure, here are our three keys:
1. Defence. As mentioned, Toronto's D down the stretch last night wasn't that great. The Raps had a double-digit lead and looked to be en route to a fairly easy victory when all hell broke loose. More specifically, the Hornets' guards gave the Raptors fits, penetrating deep into the paint, and causing confusion with rotations. This resulted in some fairly open looks for NO and they made the Raps pay.
Tonight these rotations need to be a lot tighter. The Magic aren't a great offensive team by any stretch, but Jameer Nelson is a solid pick-and-roll point guard and can get his teammates easy looks. The Magic have league's ninth most efficient defence so you can expect them to be solid at this end. Toronto has to be as well.
2. Rebounding. As athletic and long as Ed Davis and Amir Jonson are, I haven't been blown away by their board-work of late. Amir had eight rebounds last night, but there were several opportunities I felt they let slip through their grasp. Luckily the Hornets, as shown above, couldn't capitalize, but the Raps need to be better in this respect tonight.
And this isn't all of Davis and Johnson of course. Toronto's guards and wings need to be a bit tougher here too. The Magic's offensive rebounding rate is very similar to that of Raptors, so we shouldn't see a huge discrepancy in this category when the final whistle sounds.
3. Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon. Finally, I'll be curious to see how these two play this evening as I believe they represent a huge key to getting the victory. Lowry seemed fine playing behind Jose and was the superior option at both ends. I wouldn't be surprised to see Lowry start again very soon, but for how long? ESPN.com's Marc Stein is reporting that Bargnani is "a lock to be moved," but that Lowry, not Calderon, could be the player moved with Andrea.
We'll continue to monitor this story but in the short-term, we'll see how these two function together, with tonight's match-up versus the Magic being the next piece in the experiment.