The Toronto Raptors beat the Washington Wizards last night 96 to 88.
That in itself is nothing spectacular. After all, these Wizards have 15 wins on the season.
However the club had been playing better since John Wall's return (10 and 8 before last night's match-up) and was sporting one of the NBA's best defenses.
So in that sense, this was a solid win, especially since it was Toronto's first game post-All-Star break, and fifth straight victory. It's also Toronto's sixth win in its last eight games, and the win moves the Raps an inch closer to the Philadelphia 76ers, ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings by a mere game and a half now.
But that's where things get strange for me.
Yes, there's no question the club has been better of late in terms of wins, but if someone was to ask me if this was indeed a better team post Rudy Gay trade, I'm not sure what I'd answer.
The wins are there, yes.
And there's indeed an improved swagger from this group, with certain players like DeMar DeRozan and John Lucas, playing their best, and most consistent basketball of the season.
10 games under .500 suddenly, the Toronto Raptors indeed look to be making a playoff push.
And that's when I stop and scratch my head.
Because when I look at the six wins since Rudy Gay came onboard, I'm just not convinced.
-The club crushed an LA Clippers team that was missing MVP candidate Chris Paul and tone-setter Matt Barnes,
-Edged an Indiana team that had played the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights (all Pacer wins) prior to their Friday night tilt with the Dinos,
-Beat a New Orleans team that has 19 wins,
-Barely got by the Nuggets who were minus Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler,
-And got a heroic performance from the struggling Alan Anderson to top the Knicks, who may have been playing with a banged up Carmello Anthony.
Then last night's win against a Washington team that looked like it was still on the All-Star break.
Now the argument could be made that the Toronto Raptors of November and even January would have dropped a few of these close ones, but suffice to say, the recent wins are hardly concrete proof of the team's improvement.
Even the advanced stats are a bit murky.
On paper, they were allowing 106 points in the 10 games previous to the Rudy Gay acquisition, but with Gay in the lineup, the club has given up just under 94 points a game, a number that likely dropped a bit more with last night's win.
On the flip side, the team's offensive rating has pretty much stayed the same, edging up from eleventhh overall in the NBA pre-Rudy, to tenth.
So win-win right?
Again, at face value you'd have to say yes, but is the improved O and D marks a product of true improvement, or weaker competition? The teams the Raps have beaten during the brief Rudy Gay era have great records overall, but as noted, were hardly at full capacity when facing Toronto.
So again, I'm leery at this point to say the club's taken a huge jump ahead thanks to Mr. Gay.
Of concern too, and perhaps no surprise in the absence of Jose Calderon, the Raps' assists per game have dropped from about 22 to 20 a night, a big difference when you look at how that ranks league-wide, and turnovers per contest have crept up as well. These are issue that may not have manifested themselves in terms of losses at present, but are potential future concerns as Toronto looks to find some back-up point guard help for Kyle Lowry.
The bottom line for me then, is that I still feel like I need to see this team play some upper echelon competition, and said competition needs to be at, or near, full strength.
That's why tonight's match-up against the Memphis Grizzlies is a big one in my books, as the club will indeed be facing one of the league's top teams, and one that should be at or near full strength.