I am proud to announce that I am back in. For those of you who have been reading my articles, you would be well aware that I was on the Tank for Wemby Train, but all it took was a couple back to back wins against a poor Charlotte Hornets team, preceded by a solid win against the Portland Trail Blazers, and I am back on board.
The Toronto Raptors are in no way out of the playoffs. For as rough as this season has been, they currently sit in the final play-in spot, only 4.5 games behind the six-seeded, New York Knicks. The team directly in front of them is the Atlanta Hawks, who they play today.
Where to watch:
TSN, 7:30 PM ET
Toronto Raptors — Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes
Atlanta Hawks — Trae Young, Dejounte Murray, De’Andre Huntre, John Collins, Onyeka Okongwu
Toronto Raptors — Otto Porter Jr. (Out - foot)
Atlanta Hawks — Clint Capela (Out - calf)
That is right Raptors fans! Don’t look now, but by way of tie breaker, the Toronto Raptors could find themselves in 9th place tonight!
Should that excite anyone? Probably not. But one of my favourite sayings is “in order to reach 100, you have to pass 1 first.” Meaning that if the Raptors are truly wanting to make a run to the top six in the East, they have to climb their way there.
Following three big home wins, the Raptors have their fourth chance at beating a below .500 team at Scotia Bank Arena tonight!
You may be asking yourself: “If they were against such weak opponents, why were they big games?” The first reason is simply because losing those games would have plummeted them closer to the bottom of the conference than the playoffs, not to mention absolutely shoot their confidence in the foot.
The other reason is because these are the teams that you need to beat! There are still teams at the top of the conference such as the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics, who the Raptors still have on their schedule multiple times. Wins against some of the upper-echelon teams of the East would be nice, but they are not expected. Wins against teams who are below .500 are expected when your hopes are to make the playoffs.
There are some extremely bad Toronto losses this season. The one (or two) that stands out to me is that back-to-back two-loss road trip to the Orlando Magic. However, if you look back at the Raptors schedule, 18 of their 23 losses have come against teams who are currently at .500 or better, and in a play-in or playoff spot.
No, it is still not ideal to be losing to all the teams who you would see in the playoffs, but maybe grabbing some wins against weaker opponents can get the Raptors back on track. Maybe some health, momentum and confidence can carry the Raptors into a playoff spot, where this team truly does belong.
The defense has looked better in the past couple of games. Yes, it will always look better against weaker offensive opponents, but simply the energy to stop the ball, or crash the glass seemed to be at a level which we haven’t become familiar with this season.
Not to mention the Tuesday game against Charlotte, the Raptors hit 20 3-pointers, a season high! Sadly, that may be an anomaly, but if they can at least climb themselves out of 29/30th place in 3-point percentage, all improvement is necessary.
The Toronto Raptors also have one of the easier schedules remaining. According to Tankathon, they have the 10th easiest, but I believe Matt Devlin said during Thursday’s game that they have the easiest remaining schedule? I’m not sure where he got that information from, but I’m sure he has at least some reference, so that is more good news!
As I will always say time and time again, all that matters is the next step. Just like that quote saying how you need to pass 1 in order to get to 100, you need to play the Atlanta Hawks tonight, before you can move onto 20 games in the future.
Not that it should be a surprise anymore, but Pascal Siakam continues to look like an All Star, and is potentially building his case for All-NBA Second Team. An achievement which will be more attainable if the Raptors do finish higher in the standings.
He is coming off a game where he scored 35 points and grabbed 7 rebounds, while shooting over 84% from the field.
One of the reasons last game looked so dominant for the Raptors is because it is one of those rare circumstances where Siakam played well, but also got help from his teammates. Scottie Barnes had a near 21 point triple double, and although inefficient, Gary Trent Jr. finished with 19 points, his ninth game in a row with at least 19.
The bench has also begun to look a lot better. Something that I pointed out would need to happen heading into the Portland game. Tuesday’s game against Charlotte, the bench combined for 40 of the Raptors 132 points, and last game, even though it wasn’t near as many points, the bench brought the energy, and the only person with a negative +/- was Precious Achiuwa at a -1.
Speaking of Achiuwa, he is slowly starting to get himself up to speed. Which is huge for the Raptors! Heading into the season, there was a clear top six in the pecking order. It was the five starters that we have come accustomed to seeing, and Achiuwa himself.
After missing 24 games, Achiuwa has rightfully been shaking off the rust since returning to the lineup. His minutes have slowly been increasing, and in just 30 minutes total, he scored 23 points in the two games against the Hornets. Not only that, but he shot 4/8 on 3-pointers while doing so.
This is a great sign for the Raptors. They have desperately been needing bench help all season. Whether it was due to injury, or simply lack of production, they have not been getting it.
Tonight is a big test for the Raptors, with quietly quite a bit on the line. For starters, they are currently on their longest winning streak of the season at three. So, every win from now on only adds to that record.
Secondly, as I’ve mentioned before, if you are wanting to be a playoff team, you really have to take advantage of almost every game against those teams that sit below you in the standings.
Now, they have to climb into the top six before these teams are below them in the standings, but with a win tonight, they will be one spot closer to the top six, and don’t get too far ahead of yourself, but that team sitting in sixth, is who the Raptors play tomorrow.
But, you can’t get to tomorrow’s game without first playing today’s. A game which the Raptors need to win, because every game from this point on is big.