Time for Raptors to get it togetherLacking any real 'super-duper' stars, Toronto's only hope is to play as a team
By MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency
|Rookie centre Jonas Valanciunas (left) has earned a starting spot with the Raptors with his fine play. (Mike Cassese/REUTERS)
The goal as stated is simple: Get to the playoffs.
But there’s nothing simple about accomplishing that feat for the Toronto Raptors.
Not even a 6-1 record in the pre-season can disguise that.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs, but being realistic it’s going to be a scratch-and-claw season,” head coach Dwane Casey said Tuesday, 31 hours before his team will open the NBA season against the Indiana Pacers on its home court.
“ We know that,” Casey said. “Nothing is going to be easy. To even get in the hunt is going to be a fight for us because we don’t have the super-duper stars. We don’t have them. We have really good basketball players, high IQ players, but the thing we have to do is do it as a unit. If we don’t, and try and do it individually, we won’t past the smell test.”
There is no question the Raptors roster has improved significantly from a year ago. The additions of Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas, Landry Fields and rookie Terrence Ross each bring something this team was lacking a year ago.
But all of that was necessary just to keep up in the Atlantic Division where every team, save for maybe the Knicks, has also upgraded it’s talent significantly.
In Brooklyn, the brand new Nets welcomed a healthy Brook Lopez back into the fold, which includes a resigned Deron Williams and the addition of a six-time all-star in Joe Johnson.
The Boston Celtics may have lost Ray Allen, but they’ve added with the likes of former sixth man of the year winners Jason Terry and Leandro Barbosa, rookie Jared Sullinger, who will start for the Celts, and the return of Jeff Green, who missed all last season with a heart issue.
Even Philly could be significantly better assuming Andrew Bynum eventually finds his way back to the court.
The Raptors have no control over any of that, but in order to compete with those teams, not to mention the rest of the conference, it’s going to take some luck in the health department and the kind of on-court chemistry that can overcome some of the edge those other teams might have in overall talent.
Casey is by no means waving the white flag already. But he does want to be very clear that there really is only one way for these Raptors to accomplish the stated goal.
“We can do it on the depth,” Casey said. “Andrea has the potential to (have) that (super-duper season). DeMar as the potential to do that. Kyle has the potential but again potential is the key word. They have to actually do it so it’s a work in progress. Right now they don’t have a track record of doing it but this is the year for them to (start).”
The focus right now is on the five starters — Lowry, DeRozan, Fields, Bargnani and Valanciunas — finding a way to come together defensively the same way they appear to have done offensively. Casey has been sounding the alarm on that front for the past couple of weeks. No one on the team is unaware of that particular challenge.
“I think we can score the ball but we have to get out to better starts,” Lowry said following the final practice of the pre-season Tuesday. Our main thing is defensively we have to be together. I think we are getting there. It’s all about what we do as a team. We have to be on a string and I think we’re pretty close.”
That string he talks about is basically five bodies moving as one. It’s how Casey’s second unit has been operating for most of the past month, but something his starting five with three new members is still coming to grips with. It’s being aware of how the guy next to you has reacted to the opposition and reacting accordingly.
“If you notice our defensive intensity and execution goes up when the old guys come in,” Casey said. “Offensively the three new guys — Lowry, Fields and Valanciunas — are moving and clicking. They are playing at a tempo we like, but now we’ve got to turn that around and do it on the defensive end.”
Casey knows it’s just a matter of time before they get to that point, but time is crucial thanks to that little favour from the schedule-maker that sees the Raptors on the road for 15 of their first 22 games.
“That’s huge,” Casey said. “We’re talking about having a good season but we may not brighten up until after that 15-of-22 run ends (Dec. 10).
“We’ll probably look like you know what (rhymes with Brit),” Casey said. “Some of those road games are monsters: OKC, the West Coast swing. I try not to think about that. I have the season broken up into five-game segments and that way we don’t get overwhelmed as a staff and the players don’t get overwhelmed.”
Still the onus is going to be on the Raptors to work out whatever issues — whether that’s quicker starts or earlier more focussed defence — as quickly as possible.
To survive the potential punch to the solar plexus that kind of early season schedule can have, those wrinkles have to be ironed out as fast as possible.
If those untidy bits of the Raptors game linger for any length of time, the combination could bring a premature end to whatever playoff hopes this team has.
AND THE WINNER IS ...
Trying to predict how many games the Raptors or any other team might win is a sucker’s bet. There’s just too much that can happen between now and the end of the season to really have a clue. But that hasn’t stopped oddsmakers from taking a stab at things and at least giving us all a number we can debate. Here are the latest odds for win totals in the NBA for each team courtesy of Bodog.ca. Their 311/2-win total for the Raps is actually the lowest we’ve seen. The highest was around 45, which seemed equally out of whack:
2013 NBA win totals
- Miami Heat 60½
- OKC Thunder 58½
- Los Angeles Lakers 56½
- San Antonio Spurs 56½
- Denver Nuggets 51½
- Boston Celtics 50½
- Indiana Pacers 50½
- Los Angeles Clippers 49½
- Memphis Grizzlies 48½
- Chicago Bulls 47½
- Philadelphia 76ers 45½
- New York Knicks 45½
- Brooklyn Nets 44½
- Atlanta Hawks 43½
- Utah Jazz 43½
- Dallas Mavericks 41½
- Minnesota T-wolves 39½
- Golden State Warriors 36½
- Milwaukee Bucks 36½
- Houston Rockets 33½
- Portland Trail Blazers 33½
- Detroit Pistons 31½
- Phoenix Suns 31½
- Toronto Raptors 31½
- Cleveland Cavaliers 30½
- Sacramento Kings 30½
- New Orleans Hornets 27½
- Washington Wizards 27½
- Orlando Magic 23½
- Charlotte Bobcats 18½