The Toronto Raptors have now won 7 of their last 8 games and climbed the mountain all the way back to .500 in early January. A place they have not been since Mid-November. Allen Iverson will not like this but the fact the Raptors have had more time to practice seems to be paying off.The schedule has turned not just in the quality of competition but in the number of games the Raptors are facing. The Raptors are also getting healthy at the right time as well. It was a good return to the line-up for Jose Calderon last night. He was the typical Jose on offense and there were not any off those noticeable defensive breakdowns. Jarrett Jack was not at his greatest in the 4th last night but now the Raptors have options. Triano continues to use Jack and Calderon together at times as well. When the Raptors have Jack, Calderon and Turkoglu on the floor together it makes for some very interesting options. Those 3 along with Bosh and Bargnani can be very interesting. All 3 guys can play as the point and it has to be a headache to defend that group.
In terms of Bargnani that was one of the more complete games of his NBA career last night. He was very solid on the defensive end and was effective offensively as well. He did end up fouling out but it was a great all around performance. In the past the Raptors would have turned to a Rasho Nesterovic in games vs Dwight Howard. However not last night and that speaks to the faith that they have in Andrea on the defensive end of the floor. When Andrea challenges himself to play good defense he has proven to be beyond a capable defender at the 5 spot. The fact he worked hard to add some extra pounds has been a big help to him on that end of the floor. It has not had a negative effect on his offense to any degree. It makes him even more scray when he decides to take the ball to the hoop.
There was a time with the Lakers where Kobe Bryant did not have much faith in Andrew Bynum. I think even thought it has never been said Chris Bosh has wondered the same things about Andrea. This is not to say that Bosh is Kobe or Andrea is Bynum they are not. However the idea of the star believing in the young player is the same situation. Bosh will often talk about this team needing Andrea to be successful and he is starting to answer that call more times and not just on the offensive end. In fact some would make the argument that Andrea is doing a better job on the defensive end than Bosh. I am not here to say that they are wrong, last night they were not for sure.
Demar DeRozan continues to show signs of growth on the floor. He was 6 for 6 before he missed last night. They were all jumpers and not one dunk to be found. Now I am not endorsing that DeRozan become a jump shooter. I think we have more than enough of those guys on this team. However if he can proof the he can make his shots it will force guys to play him not just to drive. When that starts to happen he can use his best skills of driving and slashing to the basket and making the dunks happen. He has had his struggles on defense at times but the learning process continues. However I give great credit to Jay Triano and the organization for sticking with him in the starting line-up. If Sam Mitchell had one downfall it was how he dealt with Andrea Bargnani. Sam did not have the patience or the willingness to let him play through mistakes. Triano has been given credit for the development of Bargnani under him and eventually he should be getting credit for Demar as well. Sam did do a good job in helping Chris Bosh grow to where he is at thought. Sam pushed Bosh and got him to the point that he is a multi-time all star. That should not be forgotten.
I have liked the chemistry between certain combos on this team. Last night there was some of that between Bargnani and Belinelli. I tend to refer to it as team Italy and you can see the natural chemistry between the two. Belinelli is often talked about in terms of his shooting but he is a sold passer and that shines the brightest when those passes are going to Bargnani. Jack and Bosh have shown that natural chemistry at times as well although it was not a great night for that duo last night in Orlando. The overall ability of this team to move the basketball as a group is impressive. Even now in January you still see moments where guys are still not on the same page. However the reality of things is you want to be playing your best ball in April when it matters most.
I am convinced based on what I have seen in the Eastern Conference to this point that the Raptors are a playoff team. When you look ahead to the schedule especially in February, it would be shocking to me if Raptors were not pretty much a lock for playoffs by March 1st. What the question is shifting to for me is can this team advance once they get there. On that front I am not at all convinced yet. If you believe that the top 4 teams in the East will remain the same which I do. Then the question becomes who can the Raptors beat in a 7 game series? Boston, Cleveland and Orlando to me seem like they would not be beatable at this point in that scenario. The only other team is the Atlanta Hawks a team that has always seemed to own the Raptors. They are just the perfect foil to the Raptors. So that would not look like a good match-up as well. That is what I am looking at is if the Raptors can change my mind and convince me they can beat any of those 4 teams in a 7 game set.
Still that being said the Raptors are heading in the right direction. Also the Hawks have hit the skids of late. If the Raptors could some how work their way up to 4th would that change my mind? It might help change it but 4th place is a long way off at this point. Things are heading the right direction and even Reggie Evans has yet to be added to the mix. Things are starting to look good on that front and will see how that impacts on this team. They are starting to show signs of being able to play better D. Adding the rebounding and toughness of Reggie to the mix in a duo with an Amir Johnson could be very fun to watch.
I think when you take a step back and look at the Raptors Schedule with an objective eye really they are not that far off the pace you would think they would or should have been at prior to the season. So to answer the question in the title for me the Raptors have or are turning a corner in my mind. Now we will see what this team can do. If they can be successful the odds on Chris Bosh staying will likely grow along with their win total. Raptors earned a day off today before they play Philly on Friday.