First of all, congratulations to the Toronto Raptors for making the playoffs, shattering a number of new franchise records and finishing 2nd place in the Eastern Conference.
It’s a luxury for Raptors fans to know that their team has pretty much secure a playoff spot way back in December. Remember those times when back in the days we wouldn’t even know if we make the playoffs until the last game is played? Those days are long gone! Not any more, this Raptors team have depth, experience, consistent team winning performance.
However, franchise records are sexy and awesome, but these accolades are meaningless if the Raptors get kick out of the 1st round yet again. So, to me, the motto is…”Round 2 or Go Home!”.
I am a realistic guy, if Raptors make it out of the 1st round of the playoffs this year, I am happy, it’s a goal accomplished. It’s a baby step moving forward, as long as there is progress, I am happy.
Below are some of the areas that I think are KEY to Raptors success to get out of 1st round:
- Coach Casey needs to make good adjustment
In the past few playoff seasons, Coach Casey has a habit of sticking to its starting roster even when the roster don’t seem to be clicking. He has a stubborn nature of not making any roster changes to the starting lineup, not even bother to shake things up during the game, making things super predictable for the oppoents to guess what’s coming next from the Raptors. A great example was when the Raptors got swept by the Wizards last year.
There is absolutely no more excuse for Coach Casey to fail yet again, that’s because Raptors GM Masai Ujiri had given Casey lots of options this season. The weakest link from last year’s roster was at the SF spot. Not this year, Masai went out and address this issue with the addition of DeMarre Carroll. Despite Carroll is slowly returning into form from his months long of injuries, his strong defense against opponents’ top dog such as Paul George or Monta Ellis shouldn’t be a problem for Carroll. Furthermore, if Casey wants some outside shooting, Terrence Ross has improved his 3pter shot this year. Want some more aggressive defense and energy? No problem, throw in the 6’9″ James Johnson. Better yet, on a surprising turn, rookie of the month in April, Norman Powell added grit, defense, size, 3pter and scoring in the paint. The BEST part about Powell? He is fearless, that’s what we need.
With such an in-depth roster of players for Casey to choose from, Casey has no excuse for failing because he has so many different options, giving different looks and rotation against the Indiana Pacers, who has a relative weaker bench than the Raptors.
- Can All-Star DeMar DeRozan finally step up his game during the playoffs?
DeMar DeRozan has clearly improved year-after-year with his spin moves and shots during the regular games. He has definitely mature and master his crafts this year. Although, DeMar is a great regular season stats guy, he has yet to flourish in the playoffs.
In the playoffs, it’s a different game. The opponents’ defense will be tighter, they are more aggressive, they will double team DeMar more frequently. They will give DeMar less space and time to aim and shoot.
Whether the Raptors can get pass the 1st round will heavily depend on the ability DeMar in making adjustments and being able to mix up his scoring repertoire during the playoffs. He needs to shoot 3’s, shoot in the paint, drive to the hoop and draw fouls.
MEMO to Demar: If the ref isn’t giving you the call, don’t stand around and whine or get piss off, just stay focus and get back to defense and just keep going at it. Most often, he doesn’t drive when refs stopping giving him the call. And when his outside shots aren’t falling and he isn’t driving to the hoop, he usually disappear.
Kyle Lowry, without a doubt is the heart and soul and leader of this team. We don’t even have to doubt his heart and passion. Even if the team is down 20 pts, Lowry will still give it his all to the dying seconds. Lowry and DeRozan are best friends, but no matter how good the friendships, a batman will need a robin. Can Lowry continue to be fine with DeRozan not able to complement him and disappear in the playoffs and continue have to carry the team on his back?
Believe it or not, this is the free agent year for DeMar DeRozan, is he a max player? Should Raptors re-sign DeMar for a max contract? This will be a tough question. Would GM Masai wants to lock up a guy with max contract who may not be the game changer year after year with mediocre playoff performances? This playoff will be KEY for DeRozan to show what he got.
3. Raptors MUST win Game #1
Believe it or not, throughout the entire Raptors history, as accordingly to RealGM playoff stats, Raptors have NEVER won game #1 in the entire franchise history for every playoff series. Other than year 2000-2001 when Raptors came back to beat the Knicks and then lost to the 76ers, every playoff series that Raptors lost game #1, they lose the entire series.
Although winning game #1 doesn’t mean they win the whole series, but it is extremely important for Raptors to take game #1 to set the tone for the rest of the series, get settle down and start believing in themselves.
Game #1 may not be as important for other teams but definitely a KEY factor for the Toronto Raptors if they want to go to the 2nd round.
If Raptors able to check off the 3 key points I have mentioned above, the chances to go to the 2nd round is looking super bright!.
Best of luck! Go Raptors!