The Raptors make it three lackluster efforts in a row and fail to produce a much needed win. They started the week in ninth place and four games back of the Milwaukee Bucks. The Raptors head to face those Bucks after a loss at home to Pacers in tenth place and six and half games behind the Bucks. While the Raptors were busy having a very physical battle Indiana Pacers, the Bucks were preparing to take on the Raptors.
The Bucks are currently 28-28 and are equal on both the road and at home with 14-14 record both home and away. The Raptors are just 8-20 on the Road despite being much better since the acquisition of Rudy Gay. They did however lose their last road contest of the month of February in an attempt to go perfect on the road for the month for the first time in franchise history. The Raptors have been in a funk offensively while their defense has been inconsistent at best of late. In that game in Cleveland they started off with a 21-7 lead only to see it evaporate before their eyes. Much like the playoff dreams fans had entering this week.
If the 93-81 loss to the Pacers was not bad enough... news that Rudy Gay who led the Raptors in scoring with 21 points, is battling back trouble is not encouraging news. The Raptors are set to embark on a four game road trip starting tomorrow in Milwaukee with stops in Oakland to play the Warriors, L.A to take on the Lakers and Phoenix to battle the Suns.
While the game against Milwaukee is the most vital and a loss tomorrow would pretty much bring an end to any legitimate playoff discussions the rest of this trip is beyond challenging. A much improved Warriors squad under Mark Jackson, a desperate Lakers squad trying to avoid an embarrassment of missing the post-season and a Suns team with nothing to lose having just a terrible and forgettable season.
By the time the Raptors return home to look for some kind of revenge against Cleveland, things could be well decided about the fate of this season. We all remember the Raptors last trip to the West Coast from back at the start of December don’t we? In case you have blocked it out mentally, it was a five game trip in which the Raptors returned home with no wins to show for it and Kyle Lowry and Andrea Bargnani both injured. They would lose to the Nets upon returning home in a battle of two teams on five game losing streaks and reach the low point of the season at 4-19.
Any talk of this team being considered in a playoff race at that point would have been laughed at loudly. People were desperate to see some action. They wanted Colangelo fired, some said Casey as well and everyone was clamoring for the Raptors to make a trade.
A trade would come far later down the road and no one would be fired in the Raptors’ Organization. Hockey would comeback and soon after the end to the Brian Burke era with the Leafs. That would cause questions at the time of MLSE as to why Colangelo remained and Burke did not. Ultimately, they never really did answer the question. Since that time Colangelo with the blessing and approval of the MLSE board acquired Rudy Gay and his massive contract.
Not exactly something that a lame duck G.M would be given the power to do. In the end if not a playoff push, the acquisition of Rudy Gay and the re-shaping of this roster will be the Colangelo sales pitch to remain. If the Raptors continue to squander their playoff hopes away, the impact on what that would mean for Colangelo is unclear. However, you could make a case that Colangelo pulled off a great coup in the trade for Gay. Is that enough to ignore the past mistakes he has mad with this organization and keep his job?
Oh and the fans still very happy to boo what many would say was a Colangelo biggest blunder in selecting Andrea Bargnani with the first overall pick in the draft.
In any case the long and the short of it is that Judgement Day for this season has officially arrived, in the form of this important battle with the Bucks. Raptors win and they cling to whatever life they have left. A loss and the focus clearly shifts to next season and beyond. That is at least what should happen. We should see more of Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas.
The positives in missing the post season are more than just one. The draft pick the Raptors traded to acquire Kyle Lowry would be exercised and used. Oklahoma City currently holding the pick originally traded to Houston. They acquired it in perhaps the only more significant trade of the current NBA season sending James Harden to the Rockets. Not that it is likely, but for the Raptors to enter with next season’s draft with the greatest superstar this country has produced in Andrew Wiggins expected to be in that draft class and the likely number one selection would be a blow.
Granted the Raptors firmly believe they are on the path to the post-season if not this year, than surly next year. Which makes the idea of landing Wiggins with their pick impossible. Still to not have a ticket to win the lottery at all with no picks, is something that could haunt this organization for years to come.
Sure Wiggins has not even selected a college to attend, yet as he recently visited one of the four finalists looking to have him come to play for them in Kentucky. No matter if he is a Wildcat, Jayhawk, Tar Heel or Seminole, it is conceded by all that this is likely a one year marriage until he can officially enter the NBA. Like the relationship with Kevin Durant and Texas, as the first to be a one and done college basketball player, after NBA brought in rules to eliminate high school players from the draft. The last of those high-schoolers to enter the league is on this Raptors’ roster in the form of Amir Johnson.
While the playoff experience for the Raptors young group would be helpful and have benefits, the reality is they are looking at being a sweep victim to the Miami Heat, with former Raptor Chris Bosh getting to laugh at the team he once called his. Not making the post-season and finding out sooner rather than later gives the chance for the Raptors to give more minutes to Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas and even Quincy Acy down the stretch.
Sure MLSE would like to have the money from a couple home playoff dates and fans would like to see their team finally get back to the post-season. In the bigger picture of things the benefits of not making the post-season could be far greater than making them in the short term.
What happens to those playoff dreams could ultimately get decided in the next 24 hours or could drag out longer with a win tomorrow. In any case the light at the end of the tunnel is getting as dim as Raptors fans opinions of Andrea Bargnani.