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Apr 9, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) carries the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

NBA Playoffs: Toronto Raptors' Ambitions

With the NBA playoffs almost among us, each of the sixteen teams who will eventually make up the post season will have dreams of going all the way and be crowned the NBA champions. Of course for some this is still merely a pipe dream, while for others it is the absolute end goal, with any other result deemed a failure. With that in mind we take a quick and lighthearted look at how each team can potentially do once the playoffs start.

Jonas Valanciunas has improved immensely this year, and will be a key cog for this Raptors team when the playoffs begin. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Why They Can Win It All

This Toronto Raptors team has overachieved this season, and has had fun while doing it. In DeMar DeRozan this club has an All-Star it can lean on, and in point guard Kyle Lowry they have another player with a chip on his shoulder who feels he should have been given an All-Star berth. DeRozan scores 22.7 points a game for a team that is the thirteenth highest scoring organization in the league, showing how important he is, and also that the Raptors know how to put it in the cup at a better rate than more than half of the other teams in the NBA. At 48.7 minutes, the Raptors have the second highest minutes logged among the whole team in the league, trailing only the Washington Wizards. This points to a team-orientated game that is spearheaded by the aforementioned DeRozan. It also shows that the Raptors are not afraid to let role players spend some extended time on the court, making plays for this team.

Second year player Terrence Ross has stepped up in a big way as well, and is a factor for this team. His 11 points game come in handy for this team, but it is the way he gets his points that are most important. Shooting .426 from the field is fine, and being a .839 shooter at the charity stripe is even better. Put simply, this guy is converting on the good clean looks he is getting, and statistically is taking high percentage shots. Apart from DeRozan this team doesn’t generate a ton of offence, so this is important. Jonas Valanciunas has also stepped up big time for the team this year, and his 8.6 rebounds are crucial for a team that usually gives up some height against opponents. To highlight his importance, just imagine what the Miami Heat could do with this guy.

Why They Might Exit Early

The red flag for this team is not being at or near the top of most statistical categories as a team. Rebounding (18th), assists (20th), points (14th) and steals (25th) per contest make for some pretty rough reading, and no team that was ever serious about making an impact in the playoffs has been so average in so many categories. It is ok to be poor at some things and excel at others, that is called team identity, but for the Raptors it is all a little bit too mediocre. Being known as this high tempo, nobody saw coming bunch of guys is all well and good, that surprise factor will win you some regular season games. But this is the playoffs, where the lesser teams get found out pretty quickly.

Shutting down DeRozan effectively, which teams like the Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers with their clamping defence can do, really limits the ability of this team. Doing that requires Lowry to step up, and while he’s had a great year, he is not an elite level point guard. His 17.6 points and 7.6 assists are All-Star numbers, it’s just a shame not many of his teammates are at that level yet either. This team is on the right track for sure, but they are a step behind some of the other teams, even in this weaker Eastern Conference.

Potential X-Factor

Amir Johnson. Yes this team goes as far as DeRozan can take them, but Johnson has been putting in work in his teammate’s shadow. Statistically this has been one of his better years in the league, with the 10.5 points he is putting up a career high. Johnson can get it done inside as well though, as his 6.7 rebounds attest to. Indeed, when on the floor Johnson grabs 13.4 percent of all available rebounds on the court, which may seem a small enough number, but with ten players potentially going after boards, is a solid enough number. As a comparison Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timerwolves, somebody who eats the glass for breakfast, snatches 18.9% of all available rebounds when on the court. It is a good deal more than Johnson, but the Raptors man is at least in the same ball park as the better rebounder Love. With the nice scoring touch and ability to rebound, Johnson could prove even more crucial for this team in a tight playoff game.

How They’ll Do

This team is going home in the first round, but in a way that’s ok. The Raptors are onto something here, and are a better team than a lot of people gave them credit for coming into the season. Shedding Rudy Gay and his one man offensive show has proved a masterstroke, Toronto now plays a much better brand of team oriented basketball with DeRozan able to take over the scoring burden when needed. What would be great to see though, is a first round matchup with the Charlotte Bobcats. Two teams who have perhaps overachieved, or at the very least proved doubters wrong. Both avoiding the Miami Heat and Pacers in the first round, and both going at it hammer and tongs in an effort to make the semi finals. It would be a great series that at this moment is in position to happen, and would be up there with a Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls rematch in terms of series that would create drama. If it comes to be, maybe, just maybe, the Raptors can squeak into the semis. Other than that though, first round exit.

Tags: 2014 NBA Playoffs DeMar DeRozan Toronto Raptors

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