Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Once considered two of the favourites to win the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards have been playing some truly terrible basketball of late. Now it could easily be a struggle for either team to simply win a playoff round.
As Tom Ziller writes, the Raptors and Wizards have seen their net ratings drop below zero since Jan. 16. For those unfamiliar with the statistic, net rating subtracts a team's defensive efficiency (points allowed per 100 possessions) from its offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions).
Since the unofficial mid-way point of the 2014-15 season, the Raptors have seen their net rating fall by six points, good for the third-biggest tumble in the league. Washington ranks fifth-worst in that time span, plummeting by 5.4 points.
Canada's lone NBA franchise has the luxury of playing in the atrocious Atlantic Division, so a fourth-place finish would be the worst possible outcome. On the contrary, the Wizards are not a division leader, so they will continue to fall until they are able to release the parachute.
So what is the reason for the Raptors' tailspin? Look no further than Toronto's two "star" players, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
Accounting for 51.3 percent of the team's offensive possessions, DeRozan and Lowry have registered net ratings of -1.7 and -2.3 respectively since Jan. 16. The shooting percentages over that period are hideous as Lowry is connecting on a team-worst 36.3 percent while DeRozan is hitting on 40 percent of his attempts.
On the other hand, prior to Jan. 16, Lowry had a very solid 4.8 net rating and in limited time, DeRozan's was 6.8.
With the recent slide, it appears as though Raptors fans may once again be heartbroken come May. One of the team's potential first-round opponents is the Indiana Pacers, who have quietly posted a net rating of 8.8 over their last 13 games, going 11-2. If Frank Vogel's squad can continue the torrid pace, they could shoot up the standings. They could also be getting superstar wing player Paul George back in the lineup before the playoffs begin making them a truly fearsome foe. I seem to remember another Paul ending Toronto's playoff run a season ago.
What has happened to the Raptors team that could do no wrong and was sitting atop the East early in the season? It will be up to Dwane Casey and his coaching staff to bring that group back from the dead.