It was, let’s be honest, not looking good for the Toronto Raptors. But a week can be a really long time in the NBA.
If competition to win your division is a stimulus for success, then it’s no real surprise that Canada’s finest hit a mid-season wall. The Raps have a virtually uncatchable 12 1/2 game lead over Brooklyn in the Atlantic (at odds of 1.01), all but assuring they will be seeded no lower than fourth in the Eastern Conference side of the playoff draw.
But it’s beyond that where Toronto’s chances have been up and down. Now 8.00 to emerge from an increasingly intriguing East and an unlikely 21.00 for the championship, we’ve started to see signs again that the Raptors won’t easily be rendered extinct.
It’s now four wins on the bounce and counting headed into Friday’s trip to the Nets, a streak that has moved them back into second place in the East behind unstoppable Atlanta.
In truth, none of their conquests have been opponents over .500 but at least some momentum has been gained before they embark on a tough pre-All Star stretch that includes clashes with San Antonio, Washington and the LA Clippers before returning with a showdown against the Hawks.
The key switch has been offense. Averaging 106 per game on the season, Toronto has put up 107 over its last four after 98.7 during an 11-game stretch in which they went 3-8 on a scoring rate of a mere 98.7.
And even All Star Kyle Lowry’s offensive production has tapered to 16.6 points per game in January – down 2.8 from his seasonal pace – the Raptors are always more of a team threat over individual.
That could be a help but also a hindrance further down the line. But with a 6-0 record over their own division, look for a big victory over Brooklyn who have lost three straight by an average of 28.3.
As we head towards the post-season, the league’s northern outpost is one to watch.
Best bet: Take Toronto on the handicap of -12.5 over Brooklyn at 2.90