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Toronto Raptors: Defending Champions Proving doubters wrong

Last season’s NBA saw one of the most surprising NBA Championship win by a team in the history of the sport. After four consecutive years of disappointments and failure to progress beyond the playoffs, the Toronto Raptors became NBA Champions for the first time in their history under Head Coach Nick Nurse. The Raptors overcame the mighty Golden State Warriors in the finals in a major sporting upset. The title win came in the Raptors’ maiden appearance in the NBA finals and the Warriors’ fifth consecutive NBA finals. The title win saw the Raptors enter the history books as the first non-American team to win the NBA title. The Raptors’ fairytale run to the Championship glory also included an Eastern Conference title win against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Despite winning the title, the Raptors’ chances of becoming a regular title contender in the NBA were quickly written off by most fans who believed last season’s triumph was just a one-off. These doubts were also fuelled by the exit of star player Kawhi Leonard from the team to the Los Angeles Clippers. As far as the doubters were concerned, the Raptors were not good enough without Kawhi. However, the team has been brilliant this season. This season, the Toronto Raptors without last season’s MVP Kawhi Leonard are currently occupying the second position in the Eastern Conference behind first placed Milwaukee Bucks and early in the Atlantic Division with a 46-18 win-loss record.

We take a look at the Raptors’ season so far and the factors behind their successes this season.

 

Toronto Raptors’ season so far

Last summer saw the defending and reigning Champions, Toronto Raptors make wholesale of additions to the team after the departures of both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green as unrestricted free agents to both two Los Angeles teams. In all, the Raptors made ten new additions, including Center Dewan Hernandez, who was the 59th overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft.

The Raptors began the regular season with a 133-132 overtime win over the New Orleans Pelicans. However, a 112-106 defeat to pre-tournament favorites, Boston Celtics threatened to derail the Raptors’ season before it even began. The Raptors would shake off the second game loss to record three straight wins over Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic, and Detroit Pistons.  The Raptors finished the opening five games with a 4-1 win-loss record. The next five games saw the Raptors pick up three wins with the most significant victory coming against the Los Angeles Lakers. After ten games, the Raptors had a decent 7-3 record. Eight wins from the next nine games ensured the Raptors’ stay at the top half of the table after the first two months of the season. However, four losses in the next five games raised concerns over the team’s ability to handle the pressure of being the defending Champions. The Raptors would end with six victories and three defeats in the final nine games of the year. The last game of 2019 saw them lose 98-97 to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Raptors began 2020 on a good note with a 117-97 win over Cleveland Cavaliers before recording two victories and three defeats from the next five games. After the run of inconsistent results, the Raptors finally stepped up to record 15 consecutive wins, stretching from the middle of January to early February. The winning streak came to a crashing end at the hands of the Brooklyn Nets on the road. Since then, the Raptors have claimed six wins from their last nine games before the season’s suspension.

 

Factors behind the Raptors’ successes this year

Over the years, the Raptors have been able to build their team around a crop of players in the team. These crop of players have always played as a collective unit. This season has been no exception. The likes of Power Forward Pascal Siakam, Point Guard Kyle Lowry, Shooting Guards Fred VanVleet, and Norman Powell and Center Serge Ibaka have all been influential for the team once again this season.

Pascal Siakam has averaged 23.6 points per game, 7.5 rebounds per game and 3.6 assists per game in his 53 appearances this season. He has been the most consistent performer in the team this season. In all, Siakam has contributed 1253 points, 399 rebounds, and 191 assists.

Kyle Lowry has also averaged 19.7 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game and 7.7 assists in 52 games while Fred VanVleet has averaged 17.6 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game and 6.6 assists per game in 48 games this season.

Norman Powell has also averaged 16.4 points per game, 3.7 rebounds per game and 1.8 assists per game in 44 games with Serge Ibaka also averaging an impressive 16.0 points per game, 1.5 assists per game and 8.3 rebounds per game in 50 matches.

Small Forward OG Anuoby and Center Marc Gasol have also been key contributors this season. These numbers are clear indications that these crop of players have been the foundation of the team without Kawhi Leonard this season.

Another factor behind the successes of the Raptors this season has been their performances against their Eastern Conference opponents. In 40 games against Eastern Conference opponents, the Raptors have a 30-10 win-loss record.

The team has also recorded massive wins against some of the best NBA teams on the road this season. The Raptors have significant away wins at Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, and Utah Jazz.

 

What’s next?

At the moment, the Raptors are in contention to make the playoffs once again, with 18 games remaining.  Most of the remaining games are against some of the struggling teams in the NBA this season.  However, they also have tough games against the likes of Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Houston Rockets. These games could determine where they end up if the season resumes.

 

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