The Toronto Raptors have been a little better than mediocre since the franchise’s inception back in 1995. Aside from some Vince Carter highlights, the developmental stage of Tracy McGrady, a Chris Bosh ascension as an NBA superstar and a history of mostly unceremonious early exits from the NBA playoffs, the Raptors have made about as much noise as a turtle with laryngitis.
But this season Toronto, had the best record in franchise history, 56-26, and entered the postseason as a No. 2 seed. Last year, they were a No. 4 seed, but wound up being swept by the Washington Wizards in the first round, a team they seemed to match up well against, at least on paper.
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All-Star backcourt mates Kyle Lowery and DeMar DeRozan each had horrific numbers in that series, Lowry far moreso than DeRozan. His 12.3 PPG, five points below his regular season average, during that series were on 31 percent shooting from the field and that field goal percentage was nearly 10 points bellow his regular season average of .400.
This season Lowry appeared to be on a mission, increasing his regular season average by nearly four points over the previous season and his shooting percentages from deep, midrange and the free throw line as well. For his part, DeRozan’s averages jumped across the board as well.
So, imagine my surprise when the No. 7 seed Indiana Pacers pushed them to seven games. Imagine my surprise when I saw that both Lowry and DeRozan’s stats were even worse this postseason than then they were last year. After all, since when do two people with such a high talent level consistently under- perform two years in a row, on the same team and under similar circumstances?
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The Raptors won their first round series against the Pacers due in large part to the contributions of center Jonas Valanciunas, before his injury. Power forward Bismack Biyombo was a beast on the boards and around the basket, and there were key plays in critical moments from Terrence Ross and others.
Against the Miami Heat, the Raptor’s backcourt started off even worse than they did against Indiana. Lowry only scored seven points in Game 1 before eventually exploding for 33 in Game 3. He scored only ten points in Game 4. 25 points from Lowry and 34 points from DeRozan in Game 5. Lowry would explode for 36 points in a Game 6 loss, but it was easy to see that he was working with confidence once again.
That was hammered home in a Game 7 in which Lowry scored 35 points in closing out the Miami Heat.
Though it appears as if the Raptors’ backcourt is operating with midseason confidence once again, both of Toronto’s prior opponents were deficient in areas that their Eastern Conference Finals adversary, Cleveland Cavaliers, are strong in. The Cavaliers can start a lineup in which all five positions can hit the three pointer and they are also one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA.
But first things first; forget about Toronto’s 2-1 regular season advantage. LeBron and company are an 8-0 freight train this postseason.
Additionally, the Cavs present at least three, and possibly four, matchup problems that Toronto would be hard pressed to remedy.
No one is guarding LeBron James unless his head isn’t in the game, and even then he’ll drop 26 and dish out seven assists. In the past, Kyle Lowry has had issues with point guards possessing speed and quickness, and Kyrie Irving is one of the quickest with the basketball in the league. A
lso, Kevin Love will draw Biyombo, a traditional big man, so far away from the basket that he just might get veritgo. Additionally, in James, Irving, Love and JR Smith, Cleveland has four individuals who could get you 30 plus once they get going. Cavs head coach Tyronn Lue has shown that he is unafraid to manipulate his lineups for the desired effect.
Can Duane Casey keep up? Does he have enough firepower to compete?
Also, the Cavs are able to field a small-ball lineup that can run and gun with anybody in the league with Love at center and LeBron at power forward. Though not many people south of the Canadian border are expecting the Toronto Raptors to defeat the Cavaliers, if the law firm of DeRozan & Lowry represent on a nightly basis and come away with a few wins against King James and company, it would go a long way towards Toronto being a team of great repute and merit in the immediate future.