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The Raptors are playing the long game (we hope)

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It’s been a tough week and a half for the Raptors, as losses have continued to mount and championship memories move further away. But there’s still a plan in place, right?

NBA: Toronto Raptors-Press Conference Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

I once overheard an old sports bar junkie say that it’s never as bad as it looks. It’s either much worse or not that bad at all, but probably not what you think. I don’t often trust the advice of people I don’t aspire to be like, but I guess there’s some value in his point about keeping things in perspective.

The Raptors have gone from red hot to polar ice caps since the last time I did a load of laundry. And it’s frustrating. As fans we want them to get the respect they deserve. And watching them run teams out of the building for most of the first nineteen games was feeling good, really good. But now that they’ve lost four miserable games out of the last five, there’s a collective panic brewing among the faithful. You hear it everywhere. We were winning without Lowry and Ibaka. Why won’t Nick Nurse give the young guys more minutes? It’s time to trade away the vets. But this an overreaction. And like a drunk on a barstool once said, it’s not that bad.

Can you imagine if Nick Nurse had listened to all of us last spring during the Philly series when we were calling for him to bench Fred VanVleet for Jeremy Lin or Jodie Meeks? Thank goodness he ignored us. The fact is, he was playing the long game. He knew that Fred would eventually play himself out of his slump just like he knew the Raptors had no chance of winning the title if he didn’t. The same goes for now. It’s just a matter of time before Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka turn it around. It’s essential if there’s any chance of us having another parade next June. Nurse is under no illusions that a couple of precocious rookies and some affordable off-season acquisitions can otherwise carry the team.

Perspective.

By daring to believe they can repeat, the Raptors have landed themselves into a tier of teams that do well to prioritize postseason success. No need to agonize over every losing streak in December. It’s not time for panic. It’s time for patience. No trades. No benching. Weather the storm like we did together last spring.

But honestly did we really think it would be so easy? Did we think contending teams such as the Heat, Rockets, 76ers, and Clippers would underestimate the Raptors the way the media does? Not a chance. In fact, if you listen closely, NBA players and coaches are never dismissive of the Raptors. They know firsthand how well they have to play to beat them. And they’re ready. Make no mistake. The Toronto Raptors are public enemy number one. And teams are sworn to give them hell. So we shouldn’t be too surprised by some early regular season losses to really good squads. We also shouldn’t be too surprised to see good teams balling out so early on. They’re not the champs. They’re hungry. And they’re giving our guys a taste of everything they’ve been cooking up all summer. But hey, if the Raptors’ opponents want to give Toronto their best shot every night and alert the squad to what it needs to fix by April, then by all means let them do it.

Finally, we should cut the Raptors some slack. They’ve been dealing with a lot. Injuries and uncertain futures. New faces. New roles. Vague expectations. Not to mention that they’re still picking up the pieces after a painful breakup. Last year was the most special season of our team’s history. And just as we’d all begun falling in love with our new status as champions, forty percent of the starting lineup immediately annulled the marriage and split — left us high and dry for some slickster with a cool car, who vainly calls himself Hollywood. Let’s give our guys some time to get it together. This losing streak is not as bad as it looks. Believe in Nick Nurse. Believe in the Raptors. When the 2019 NBA champs figure this thing out, they’ll be too dominant for anyone to compete with. And I won’t drunkenly say I told you so.