The Hamilton Spectator
Next set of games will decide if playoffs are possible for Raptors
There was a much happier time around the Toronto Raptors when they were enjoying the bump they got from the trade deadline acquisition of Jakob Poeltl, when they were playing well and winning at a high clip.
A time when climbing the Eastern Conference standings was the goal and they dared to dream about climbing as high as sixth to guarantee a playoff berth.
Seems such a long time ago. As they begin yet another vitally important stretch of the schedule with seven of their next eight games at home, the Raptors — losers of three straight and four of five — find themselves clinging precariously to a spot in the play-in portion to get to the playoffs. A spot in the draft lottery remains very real.
Some close losses, some poor performances and some “moral victories” that mean diddly squat have created an intense sense of urgency over the next fortnight.
“I just think that we understand the importance of every game,” coach Nick Nurse said after his team won just once on a brutal fivegame road trip that ended over the weekend.
“We’ve got to win just to get in. We want to get in, we want to have a chance.”
It would mean evening out some spotty play and upsetting teams with better records. It would mean doing many of the things they’ve paid lip service to for much of the season without turning anything into consistent reality.
Denver, Oklahoma City and Minnesota this week at home, a quick trip to Milwaukee and then Indiana, Detroit, Washington and Miami. It is the stretch that will determine the season.
Toronto is clinging to ninth in the East heading into Monday’s action. But the Raptors are closer to 12th and the lottery than they are to eighth. The hope of moving up to seventh is bleak. Sixth might be mathematically possible, but it’s unrealistic to even dream about.
Now, it’s not like they are in competition with truly great teams — or even pretty good ones — and that might work in Toronto’s favour. Their main rivals — Atlanta, Washington, Chicago and Indiana — don’t strike fear into anyone, so the Raptors may ultimately benefit from the failings of others.
“Even though we’re down the standings a little bit, we don’t feel like there’s a huge gap between us and a lot of teams in this league. I don’t think we’re afraid of too many teams,” Nurse said.
For sure, the Raptors have been competitive most nights and have been playing better for longer in the last month than they did in the first four months of the season. But it’s always something with this team and that something is often bad.
The bench provides support one night, then gets outscored 61-12 like it did Friday.
All the starters operate at full throttle some nights, a couple of them struggle in other games and it’s a killer.
Some nights the defence is on point, some nights it gets shredded.
“The main thing for us is to continue to focus on getting better, playing better, getting some wins and get in the tournament and then we’ll see what happens,” Nurse said.
There can be no more moral victories where the Raptors or their supporters are able to feel good about playing well against good teams but losing.