What a difference a year makes for the Toronto Raptors
On Friday night at the Air Canada Centre, they defeated the Sacramento Kings 99-87. With the victory, the Raptors improved to 34-26 and matched their win total for all of last season.
The evening also marked a homecoming of sorts as Rudy Gay played his first game in front of the Toronto crowd since he was dealt to the Kings in December.
Several players on the team have benefited in those 42 games, especially Terrence Ross, who took over Gay’s spot in the starting lineup.
Now in his second season, Ross logged 26 minutes against the Kings and demonstrated his smooth outside touch by scoring all of his team-high 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting from 3-point range. The 23-year-old has significantly improved his jump shot this season to go along with his athletic ability and electrifying finishes at the rim. Furthermore, Ross has become the team’s most reliable perimeter defender.
The Raptors also got a solid performance from their other sophomore, Jonas Valanciunas. He was involved in the offense early in the game and went on to contribute 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting in 25 minutes of action. The 6’11” center scored with relative ease over DeMarcus Cousins and Reggie Evans on a variety of post up moves and short jumpers.
The win was payback of sorts for the Raptors after they fell 109-101 in Sacramento on Feb. 5.
Sacramento also had success generating points in the paint, especially Cousins, who was able to score at will on his way to a game-high 24 points. The Raptors were not able to find a solution for the fourth-year center, so fortunately for them, Cousins limited himself by getting into foul trouble.
As for Gay, he amassed 15 points, five rebounds and three steals in 32 minutes of floor time. Booed almost every time he touched the ball, Gay didn’t do himself any favors when he was called for traveling on a dunk attempt in transition.
Overall, the Raptors cruised to victory and didn’t show any rust that could have resulted from having four days off.
The next test for the Raptors will likely be much tougher as they hit the road to face Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves.
This time last year, the Raptors were 24-38 with nothing left to do but play out the stretch. Now, in 2013-14, the Raptors have their sights set on an Atlantic Division title and homecourt advantage in the playoffs.