The Raptors have lost three straight games on the road, to Houston, then New Orleans and Dallas. Because everyone else around them in the standings with the exception of Cleveland is falling apart as well, they still remain in second place, which is good. The way they've lost their last two games -- blowing fourth quarter leads against the Pelicans and Mavericks -- have been concerning. And we're at a point in the season where we know the key flaws to this team: their defense is inconsistent, their offense can get stagnant, and they often depend on perimeter oriented players who run hot and cold. Whether their last three games resulted in wins or losses wouldn't have changed that.
If you think these losses are discouraging, that's a totally reasonable thought. But measured against what expectation? That we're getting this late into the season and the Raptors still haven't shown that they can indeed be a championship contender and win four rounds in the playoffs? Well, they haven't, and this roster is not as currently constructed going to go that far. As other reporters have pointed out this week, the team's 37-20 record and standing in the East may have lifted those expectations for the fan base.
For me, what I'm finding encouraging is that based on what everyone in the organization is saying (from the general manager to the players), internally, the team is realistic about what their goals are, and seem to be making a conscious effort to be self critical and use this final stretch of the season (and the playoffs) to improve themselves and see where this group can go.
Masai Ujiri after not making any moves at the trade deadline:
"We are still a long way away, we understand that, but a lot of things that were put in front of us maybe immediately makes you slightly better, but also takes away from your younger guys continuing to grow," said Ujiri.
Not that you would expect anything less from Masai, but it's nice to hear the general manager spread the message that internally, they're aware this is still a transition year, a transition from a rebuilding team to a contender, to figuring out what holes need to be filled this summer.
Here's Patrick Patterson after losing to Dallas the other night:
"We build up strong leads and I think just getting too lackadaisical, getting too comfortable, getting in a lot of iso situations rather than just keep moving the ball, keep sharing the ball, keep executing our offence," Patterson said, via TSN’s Josh Lewenberg. "I think we rely too much on just one, two passes and go straight into an iso. And whenever the opposing team makes a run, then I think people try to pick up the slack and put everything on their back. And it’s hit or miss, it’s 50/50, it either goes in or it doesn’t go in, and when it’s not going in, they come back."
I appreciate these concerns being raised, instead of the usual "we just need to play better" trope that gets tossed around that doesn't get to the actual problems that need to be addressed.
And then there are the very honest self evaluations from DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry yesterday:
Asked to describe his game at the moment, Lowry had a quick response: "Me? I’m trash," Lowry told reporters. "I’m trying to figure it out right now, to be honest with you. I don’t know (how to fix it), that’s why I’m in here, working hard and trying to figure out what to do to get myself back on track."
"Right next to the trash can (that Lowry’s) is. Both trash," DeRozan told the Sun, matter-of-factly as he signed merchandise following his media scrum
It might be just me, but I feel encouraged by all this. The team is being honest with themselves right now, and they know they have to play better. I know, it doesn't feel like a lot, and the losing streak might hit four games after they play Golden State at home tonight. But these losses are pointing out issues that the Raptors seem to want to finally confront. Whether they can or not, that depends on the personnel, which like every team, has its limitations. But if this stretch is hurting them in terms of regular win totals, it might help Masai decide exactly what the ceiling of this team is, and it just might make them a tighter and stronger team come playoff time. That's a win-win for me.