It’s become very popular for people to downgrade the reigning NBA Champion Toronto Raptors because they lost a superstar in Kawhi Leonard and an elite talent in Danny Green coming into this season.
Not many are giving Toronto a chance to win it all again. The Los Angeles Clippers and L.A. Lakers, along with the Milwaukee Bucks, are the solid betting favorites. And most of that sentiment is built on the fact that all those clubs possess superstar individual talent.
Toronto can’t really match those teams on that level. The Raptors instead have strength in numbers. Their success is by committee. They just keep getting it done with a deep roster of skilled players.
But often overlooked is the fact that Toronto is actually better without Kawhi and Green this season. The Raptors actually finished with their best winning percentage in team history (.736) with a 53-19 record. That winning percentage, by the way, was second in the league to Milwaukee’s (.767). Even better than the Lakers (.732) and Clippers (.681) produced.
So, this is not a team to be taken lightly.
But just to remind fans, here’s why Toronto, the No. 2 seed, is a lock to defeat the No. 7-seeded Brooklyn Nets in the NBA’s opening playoff round, which gets underway on Monday.
They might not sweep the Nets in this Eastern Conference match-up. But it’s not unrealistic to suggest a short series for Toronto.
Prediction: Raptors in five
FIVE REASONS WHY THE RAPTORS WILL WIN
- The Nick Nurse Factor: The Raptors coach, who was a finalist for coach of the year (Update: he was named the winner on Aug. 22), has a buy-in from all the players. They trust him and they play their hearts out for him. He is also one of the most innovative coaches in the league (remember the box-and-one defense he designed against Golden State’s Stephen Curry in the Finals last year?). He’s always scheming, and you never know what he’s going to come up with.
- The Kyle Lowry Factor: Veteran guard Kyle Lowry, even at age 34, put together one of the best seasons of his career. Lowry seems more determined than ever. Don’t you think he wants to prove that he was just as instrumental to the Raptors’ championship last year as Kawhi Leonard?
- The Pascal Siakam Factor: The dynamic forward is maturing fast. He’s now in his fourth season. He made his first All-Star game and averaged career highs in points, rebounds and assists. Some consider Siakam a disappointment with his play during the restart, but expectations for him have been off the charts.
- The offensive firepower: The only step back this season was on the offensive side. Last year they ranked sixth in offensive efficiency. This year they fell to 13th. But even with this downturn, the Raptors showcased a balanced offense, with six players averaging 10 or more points a game. That kind of offense is hard to stop when you don’t know who to key on game by game. Also, Fred VanVleet, Norm Powell and OG Anunoby broke out for career years. The Raptors simply have more firepower than the Nets.
- Punishing defense: The team played better defense than it did last season and, statistically, had the league’s second-best defense. It’s simply hard to score baskets again this team. They are going against a Nets team that didn’t defend well in the restart of the season. Brooklyn ranked near the bottom of the 22 bubble teams.