The Toronto Raptors will rely heavily on Rudy Gay in their push for a playoff spot (Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Flickr.com)
Despite a miserable start to the season, the Toronto Raptors have managed to climb the standings and now trail the eighth-place Milwaukee Bucks by five games.
With just 27 games remaining, here is a look at what would have to go right for the Raptors in their quest to play a postseason game for the first time since 2008.
As recently as last month, the Raptors were far removed from the playoff picture, having struggled mightily during the first half of the season.
Rock-bottom was hit on Dec. 12, when the Raptors dragged themselves home from a six-game road trip, having found six different ways to lose basketball games and sporting an overall record of 4-19.
Their losing ways continued into January as the team’s record plummeted to 16-30, but the month ended on a high note with the acquisition of Rudy Gay, who immediately became their best player.
The team has benefited from Gay’s presence, going 6-3 since the trade. Down the stretch of the season, the Raptors will rely heavily on Gay’s veteran leadership and his ability to close out games.
While the Raptors have been on the upswing, the Bucks have faltered, going 2-8 in their last 10 games.
On Thursday, Feb. 21, both teams made moves to gear up for a playoff race that may not be decided until the last game of the season.
The Raptors, who were in need of a backup point guard since Jose Calderon was dealt, acquired Sebastian Telfair from the Phoenix Suns and to give them shooting depth, the Bucks acquired J.J. Redick from the Orlando Magic.
At the very least, the Raptors will need to get to 39 wins to pass the Philadelphia 76ers and knock the Bucks out of their current spot.
With a record that now stands at 22-33, the Raptors would have to go 17-10 the rest of the way.
To finish with fewer wins than the Raptors, the Bucks (26-27) would have to continue their stretch of poor play and win just 12 of their remaining 29 games.
The Raptors have 14 games left against teams that are currently at or above .500 and 13 remaining against teams below that mark. The Bucks have 16 and 13 games remaining in those respective categories.
They have similar records in games against teams below .500, with the Raptors at 14-10 and the Bucks at 14-11.
Where the Raptors and Bucks differ is in their performance against opponents with winning records. In those contests, the Bucks are a respectable 12-16, but the Raptors have not fared as well, going 8-23.
But with Gay in the line-up, the Raptors have been more competitive, using newfound confidence to go 4-3 against teams at or above .500.
If the Raptors continued at that pace, they could conceivably go 8-6 against opponents with winning records.
The Raptors would then have to go 9-4 against teams with losing records to end up with 39 wins.
With two games remaining against the Bucks, the Raptors have an opportunity to control their own destiny.
Just nine games into the Gay era, the Raptors have quickly forged a new identity for themselves, with the early season struggles but a distant memory.
The team now boasts an all-star caliber veteran leader surrounded by a cast of young, athletic players.
With the positive momentum they have built and a little bit of luck, the Raptors just might have enough to sneak into the playoffs this season.