Photo via The Toronto Star.
Similar to the infamous TNT Bulls, another team has consistently performed well under a singular spotlight. It’s the regular season Toronto Raptors, who are on a roll to begin the year.Guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan have led the Raptors to an 11-5 start for the 2017-2018 NBA season. They hold the NBA’s third best record, and have won four straight, including a most recent 100-91 routing of Eastern Conference rivals, the Washington Wizards. Face of the franchise Derozan has been nothing short of ferocious. He was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week, and is averaging 2.52 points, 4.6 assists, and 4.4 rebounds per game. He has scored 20+ in nine straight games.
In their last four games (those that elected DeRozan the Eastern Conference Player of the Week) Toronto has beaten: Houston, New York, Washington, and New Orleans. Each of them with a record of above .500, and players of star potential. A look at why each win represents the true identity of the NBA anomaly that is the regular season Toronto Raptors.
Outbearding the Beard on the RoadThe Houston Rockets hold the second best record in the NBA, and the best in the Western Conference, at 13-4. In the matchup against the Raptors, star guard and the 2016-2017 runner up James Harden stuffed the stat sheet. He recorded 38 points, 11 assists, and 6 rebounds. Nonetheless, DeRozan took over and Toronto won 128-113. It’s Houston’s only loss over their last nine games.
Down in the Bayou, Facing the Twin TowersNext the Raptors traveled to New Orleans, and captured their second win over the Pelicans this season. Big men DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, otherwise known as ‘Fire and Ice,’ combined for: 44 points, 14 rebounds, and 7 steals. . DeRozan scored 25 points on an efficient 61 percent shooting, while Lowry was one assist away from a triple-double. The Raptors backcourt proved too much for New Orleans, on a back-to-back and in enemy territory. While the Pelicans aren’t as hot as other teams (9-8), they certainly have the firepower to put games away. Making for another impressive Raptors win.
In New York Over the KnicksToronto made their way back home to host the New York Knicks, who’ve become a pleasant surprise to start the season. Forward Kristaps Porzingis has taken over as face of the franchise, and a top 5 player in the Eastern Conference. I don’t hesitate to grant him that right, even in light of his shoddy performance against the Raptors. The Eastern Conference contenders gutted the Knicks on home ground, 104-87. DeRozan and Lowry combined for 44 points and 17 assists , while Porzingis scored only 13 points; his lowest in twelve games. The Raptors successfully made the Knicks out to be last year’s disappointments, as they handed them just their fourth loss in November. To put that into perspective, New York had up to eight last year.
Home Stand Against Shorthanded WizardsFinally, the Raptors hosted the Washington Wizards, another top contender in the Eastern Conference. Point guard John Wall sat with injury, which pushed Toronto even more to capture a conveniently placed, and scheduled win. In absence of their point guard, defensive responsibilities had to be split for shooting guard Bradley Beal. Unfortunately and obviously, he could not contain both Lowry and DeRozan, who combined for 43 points, 12 assists, and 4 steals. Toronto won 100-91, pushing their win streak to four straight as they prepare to travel to New York. They will be hosted by the Knicks in Madison Square Garden come Wednesday, tip-off is at 7:30 PM EST.
Maintaining a win streak over the course of their next games seems likely. The Raptors will play the Pacers, Hawks, and Hornets following their trip to New York. They could go as far as 17-5 before losing their next game, December 8th. Memphis is hosting Toronto at home, and are a tough team to conquer as a visiting opponent. Another team to watch out for as the Raptors look to maintain a hot streak is the Indiana Pacers, who they play at home and away over the next five. They are a young, gritty team who’ve also found themselves on a four-game win streak.
What’s so interesting about this Raptors team, and those of NBA past, is their ability to win games despite not playing well. Either way, you know the NBA is back in full stride when the Toronto Raptors are winning big. Until the playoffs come, when they play (even a shorthanded) LeBron James and eventually drop the ball. This team is built to outlast most in the regular season, and there’s no denying it. Unfortunately, to propel this franchise to the Eastern Conference Finals and beyond, it may take a new face via free agency or trade. For now, we’ll enjoy the Raptors where they thrive most; through the first 82 games.