The Toronto Raptors are set to reach the play-offs for the seventh-straight season and an 11th time overall thanks to a run of two defeats in 19 games, up to and including the 108-97 defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks in February.
First big test passed
It may not seem that much an achievement but many predicted this season would provide a tough test for the reigning NBA champions who lost Kawhi Leonard to the LA Clippers in the offseason. Leonard was the 2019 finals MVP and also named Associated Press male athlete of the year in 2019. He was widely regarded as the best player on the planet so his departure should have rocked the Raptors to their core. With Danny Green also leaving, the rest of the roster was seen as dependable and versatile but without the quality to finish higher than the 5-7 range in the highly competitive Eastern Conference.
With a win total in the high 50s now expected, the Raptors have already defied expectations but they could still find it tough going in the play-offs. That’s when the big players really start to shine. Yet any pre-season concerns that they might be on the verge of a decline have been eliminated.
Despite exceeding expectations at Conference level, nobody is giving them much hope in the post-season. In the latest basketball odds for outright championship winner, there are still seven or eight teams available at lower prices.
Fans remained positive
Not everyone believed they would struggle in their title defence. Raptors fans remained positive and with good reason. For starters, they had faith that Pascal Siakam would raise to another level and he has done just that. With his star quality and incredible versatility, he has even forced his way into the MVP conversations, although he is not quite there yet. His improvement along with the emergence of OG Anunoby has lifted everyone. Secondly, the Raptors fans had faith in their defence and their 2019/20 rating is only second the Bucks.
Another big summer ahead
With the contracts of Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka all expiring this summer, there will be even bigger questions asked of the Canadian team once the current campaign finishes. However, a good run in the play-offs would keep them relevant give them some trading power. The fact that they have not overstretched themselves financially could also benefit them when they enter the marketplace.
Off-field status remains healthy
One of the most impressive things about the Raptors is how they go about their business off the field and that continues to be the case. There is relatively little drama associated with the team and they play their cards close to their chest. On top of that, they have developed a winning mentality that rarely buckles.
The Raptors seem to be going from strength to strength and will hope to keep that momentum going into the play-offs. If they can progress beyond the first round, people might just start talking about them as serious championship contenders once again.