The Toronto Raptors are in the NBA Playoffs for the sixth year in a row. Normally, I’m a bit nervous for them and their chances of progressing into deeper rounds, but not this year.
I’m about as optimistic as a groundhog who can’t find its shadow. Just call me Punxsutawney Paul. By the way, you have no idea how hard it is to spell, “Punxsutawney”. I had to stop halfway through the word for a water break.
Over the last five years, the Raptors own a win/loss record of 21-30 in the playoffs. Twelve of those losses came at the hands, feet, and mouth of LeBron James.
However, you want to know who’s not in the Eastern Conference playoffs this season? LeBron James. That’s who.
Double or nothing, follow up question: Who’s not in the Western Conference playoffs this season? I’ll give you a minute. Time’s up. LeBron James.
LeBron James cannot knock the Raptors out of the playoffs this year. It is a thing that logistically cannot happen. That, alone, is cause for celebration. Hit the music.
“In the arms of an angel, fly away from here, from this dark, cold hotel room….”
Whoops, sorry about that. Looks like we got our tapes mixed up.
The regular season was a mere formality this year. It was something that had to be done, in order to get where they wanted to be. No different than ordering a pizza and waiting for it to arrive.
I liked the approach of new head coach, Nick Nurse, this season. He was a laid back personality, who liked to try new things, like experimenting with different player combinations on the court.
When Dwane Casey was here, he had a set rotation for every single game, which was easy for me to pick up on, and I’m not even a scout. Sure, it’s fine to follow a pattern of getting players in and out, but when things don’t go your way, then what?
I thought the Raptors were ill-prepared in the playoffs last year, when certain combinations weren’t working on the floor and they didn’t know what else to turn to because they had never put Player A with Player Y and Z.
The starting lineup is 80% different heading into this post-season, compared to last year.
Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol.
It’s the most experienced playoff starting lineup since the days of Charles Oakley, Antonio Davis, and Mark Jackson.
With experience comes confidence. I don’t think that unit is going to be scared, or timid, or unsure of themselves. In the past, it always felt like the team thought they were good, until they saw great players on the other side.
Kyle Lowry is the little engine that could, but with a big caboose. In the past, when the team depended on him and DeMar, it felt like he tried to do too much and riled himself up to the point where he was ineffective.
This year, it’s not all on him. He can distribute the ball, let others make plays, and look for his shot when it’s there. There’s no pressure to be “the guy”. This team does not need him to score 25 points in order to win. That’s a good thing.
Danny Green is as cool as a cucumber and gives this team a legitimate three-point shooter for the first time in who knows how long.
Kawhi Leonard coasted through the regular season; I don’t think we’ve seen him at his peak, yet. I think he raises his game when he’s challenged, or when the stakes are higher, so don’t be surprised to see him take over some games.
I thought it was brilliant to manage his workload throughout the season. Why push his body to the limit in games that don’t matter? All these people made a big deal of him not playing in back-to-back games. So what?
BIGGER PICTURE, PEOPLE. LOOK AT IT.
Do you want to win a game in January and risk him getting injured, or do you want to win games in April, May, and June, and have him healthy?
And to all the media members who have been asking, “Is he going to miss games in the playoffs for load management?”, please just go away. Literally, go away.
I’ve spent the whole season watching Kawhi’s facial reactions, to determine if he’s happy in Toronto and if he’ll stay. None of that means anything if the Raptors don’t win in the playoffs.
Pascal Siakam is the athleticism, energy, and all-around weapon this team hasn’t had in a long time, if ever. He plays happy out there and I think that’s important. Sports are supposed to be fun. You can’t win if you’re miserable.
Marc Gasol is finally a Toronto Raptor. This feels like it was three years in the making. Now that he’s finally here, there has been some buyer’s remorse among some fans after they saw how well Jonas Valanciunas and Delon Wright performed for Memphis.
Fans bother me, let me just get that out there.
For almost the entire time Valanciunas was a Raptor, people wanted him to be traded. His pump fake bothered them. He never played down the stretch in the fourth quarter. He couldn’t guard quicker guys. He was too slow. The list of reasons why he shouldn’t be on the team went on and on.
All of a sudden, he starts putting up big numbers in Memphis and people are like, “Why did we get Gasol? We should’ve kept Valanciunas.”
Valanciunas has been a solid player for the last few seasons. Let’s not act like he found his game overnight in Memphis. The Raptors were not built around him. He was never the focal point of the offence.
In Memphis, they don’t have anyone else.
And yeah, Delon Wright has put up good numbers as well, but he wasn’t going to do that here because that’s not the role we needed him in.
If you had been paying attention, you would’ve known these guys were always capable of what they did in Memphis.
People look at individual stats and think they can just plug them in to any roster and think it applies. It doesn’t. Wright and Valanciunas were role players on this team. On Memphis, they’re integral parts of the offence.
Gasol is the better fit at this time. Since his arrival, our three-point shooting numbers have gone through the roof, thanks, in part, to his superb passing abilities.
Fred VanVleet is as good as it gets in terms of point guards off the bench.
Normal Powell needs to calm down, in order to be effective. It feels like he’s always on the hunt for a big breakaway dunk, or a big three pointer, when we don’t always need that.
OG Anunoby had an appendectomy the other day, so this a problem. It’ll be a tighter rotation in the playoffs, but it would’ve been nice to get 18 minutes from Anunoby. Those minutes will have to go somewhere else.
Serge Ibaka can be a big problem for the backup big men on opposing teams.
I hope Chris Boucher finds some minutes in the playoffs. I think his length is a defensive game changer.
If Jeremy Lin gives this team some reliability off the bench, even if it’s for four minutes at a time, it’ll be helpful.
The Raptors have all their bases covered. They have size, athleticism, three-point shooting, experience, youth, passing skills, and defensive stoppers.
The Orlando Magic do not scare me in the first round. Nikola Vucevic is really good, Aaron Gordon might be a problem, and Terrence Ross can hit threes off the bench, but so what?
That is a young team. They are the Raptors, circa 2015. They might win one game, but they won’t win four.
In the second round, it’s either Philadelphia or Brooklyn. Brooklyn is still really young and inexperienced, so I’m expecting it to be Philadelphia. They don’t scare me, either.
Ben Simmons can’t shoot. Joel Embiid is one step away from any sort of injury. Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris are good but are they impossible to stop, or beat? No.
The 76ers don’t have a bench. If they beat the Raptors, then the Raptors might as well blow it up and start from scratch.
If Toronto meets Milwaukee in the conference final, I still like Toronto. Milwaukee reminds of last year’s Raptors. First place in the East, lots of hype, and then they lose in the playoffs.
Let’s not forget that Milwaukee hasn’t won a playoff series since 2001. I am highly skeptical of teams going from not winning a playoff series, to all of a sudden appearing in the NBA Finals.
They’re a great team, sure, but the playoffs are a different animal. You have to learn how to win.
If the Raptors make it to the NBA Finals, I don’t know what will happen. It’s a roster with players that have been on that stage before, so I wouldn’t expect them to crumble under pressure. It just comes down to who’s coming out of the western conference.
If it’s the Warriors, it’ll be hard. I don’t care that we beat them twice during the regular season, they’re the Warriors.
If it’s anyone else, like Houston, I like the Raptors chances.
This whole blog post may have come across as biased and I don’t deny that. I’m just confident in this Raptors team and the players they have.
I fully expect the Raptors to win at least two rounds. Anything less is a complete failure. Some people would even say anything less than an appearance in the finals is a failure. That may also be true.
Ultimately, anything can happen. That’s why they play the games.
Enjoy the NBA Playoffs.