TORONTO -- For Toronto Raptor fans, things are starting to look rather familiar.
Through 21 games this season, the Raps have the same record as they did last year at this point, stuck in mediocrity at 8-13.
So, does this mean that this current Toronto team is just as good without Chris Bosh? Not exactly, because the same reasons why Toronto couldn't win more games last year is what's undoing the squad's chances this year -- factors that have nothing to do with the departed All-Star.
MAKING THE SAME MISTAKES
Toronto was a more talented team last season and would sometimes play without the energy and effort that is required to win on a consistent basis -- with the 146-115 obliteration by the Atlanta Hawks a defining moment of the season.
When the Raptors win it's because they come out with a purpose and fire that is simply not there when they lose.
The key to capturing this winning attitude appears to be determined by the club's defensive play. In victories, Toronto holds opponents to 95.8 ppg on 44.1% shooting. When they lose, however, opposing teams shreds the Raps up for 108.7 ppg, shooting 50.3% from the field.
Inconsistency on the defensive end is something that plagued the team last year and although the Raptors are marginally better in that regard this year -- allowing 103.8 ppg compared to last season's 105.9 -- being ranked amongst the bottom 20 teams in points allowed still means that there's much to be desired on the defensive end of things.
LOOKING ON THE BRIGHT SIDE
Not all is bad in Raptorland, however, particularly because the team has corrected a glaring problem from the year before.
The Raptors are one of the top rebounding teams in the NBA, pulling down a seventh-best 42.5 boards per contest. This is a far cry from the 40.4 per game that Toronto was averaging last year when they finished tied for 23rd in the league.
Issues on the glass were well documented during the Bosh years and further fueled the perception that the Raptors were a "soft" team. Toronto has completely shed that moniker, but it's nice to know that, if the Raptors are able to make a defensive stop, someone in a Toronto uniform is going to come down with the rebound.
Raptor fans should also be rejoicing over the improved play of Andrea Bargnani. The seven-footer has taken the reigns as the clear offensive leader on the team, averaging 20.2 ppg on 46% shooting and appears to be the catalyst to the team's success.
Of the eight wins so far, Il Mago has led the team in scoring in seven of those games and has been the game-high scorer in six of them.
His rebounding numbers are still a little underwhelming, but he is averaging better than his career average, and with the injury to Reggie Evans, it's entirely possible that we will see more rebounding performances like the 12 he ripped down during the Oklahoma City game last Friday.
PLAYOFFS? YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT THE PLAYOFFS? (YES, I AM)
Despite its losing record, the club still finds itself right in the thick of the playoff hunt, currently sitting tied for the eighth spot in the East with Charlotte.
Of course, much of their contender status is due to the parity in the Eastern Conference where only 2 1/2 games separate the eighth slot from the No. 15 spot.
If Toronto is capable of playing more consistent defence and Bargnani continues to score the way he has so far, there's no reason why Toronto can't vie for a seventh or eighth seed come springtime.