The trade deadline is over, the dust has settled, and Andrea Bargnani is still a Raptor. The Toronto Raptors who were active just a few weeks ago making a blockbuster deal were active once again today. The Toronto Raptors made a move on the trade deadline to acquire point guard Sebastian Telfair from the Phoenix Suns in order to make a push for the playoffs. The Raptors are currently sitting 5 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the 8th seed. The Raptors have 27 games remaining in their schedule and every one of them is important from here on in. After starting the season 4-19 the Raptors have gone 18-14 allowing themselves to remain relevant and optimistic in this hunt for the playoffs sitting with a 22-33 record.
The hard part for the Raptors is over, having had one of the tougher schedules to start the season. It also didn’t help that we had a couple of extremely bad breaks down the stretch in MANY close games. Now, the Raptors are in a much better place to make this push, having acquired the necessary talent in order to compete with the most elite teams around the league (see Kyle Lowry and Rudy Gay). Not saying that the Raptors are an elite team in the NBA, but the amount of heart that this team possesses allows them to provide quality efforts against the best of the best.
What this push essentially comes down to are the tough games down the stretch. The Raptors are a team with a talent level that far surpasses their current record. In order for the Raptors to have a serious shot at squeezing their way into the playoffs it’s the matchups against those fringe .500 teams that are going to matter the most. These are the teams that are capable of competing with Raptors on an equal level without truly surpassing the Raptors in any particular area. The Raptors have 27 games left in the season and the playoffs are not, and I repeat NOT out of the question.
The Raptors are chasing not only the Milwaukee Bucks but also division rival the Boston Celtics who sit 1.5 games ahead of the Bucks for the 7th seed. A large amount of the Raptors fate lies in the success of the Celtics and Bucks. The Raptors play both of these teams twice to finish the season; therefore they should know how important these games are going to be in order to help them in the standings, especially if things come down to tiebreakers.
The Celtics did not make a move to deal Kevin Garnett; therefore they still have their heart and soul. These games against the division rival Celtics are never easy, and the Raptors will have to rise to the occasion when they meet again. The Celtics are without Rajon Rondo, however they are a team that gathers together through adversity only fueling them to play harder and as more of a unit. They made a move to acquire Jordan Crawford from the Washington Wizards in exchange for Leandro Barbosa adding another crafty ball-handler and outside threat to the Celtics team.
For the Raptors to catch either the Bucks or the Celtics, losing must occur for both of these teams. Boston will be tested the most often having a tougher schedule with more road games than Milwaukee in their remaining schedule.
As for the Bucks, they did not make a move to acquire Josh Smith from the Atlanta Hawks, allowing Raptor fans to breathe a sigh of relief. A home-run move from Milwaukee could’ve been the extra push they needed moving forward and detrimental to the Raptors playoff hopes. The Bucks still managed to make a deal on the deadline that wasn’t as flashy as the Smith deal. They were able to acquire sharpshooter J.J. Redick from the Orlando Magic who provides the Bucks with solid depth and experience from the shooting guard position. A move that may go under the radar, but he could be a much needed addition to that team.
In order for the Raptors to make the playoffs, they will have to play winning basketball, and continue their solid play as of late. With 14 road games, a 4 game & a 3 game road-trip the Raptors will still face some adversity to close out the season. The 12 games against opponents under .500 are must wins for the Raptors, meaning they must capitalize on their five remaining games against the Wizards (three) and Charlotte Bobcats (two). Furthermore the Raptors will only play four more Western Conference opponents during these final 27 games so the importance on the remaining games against the East is increased.
Best case scenario for the Raptors they pull off a 21-6 record to close the season finishing with a record of 43-39, but that is dependant on whether they win ALL of their winnable games and beat those 50/50 games against the fringe .500 teams in the league. Looking at this more realistically the Raptors will need to close out the season with a record no worse than 17-10 to finish with a record of 39-43. There’s no telling if this record will be enough for the Raptors to make their way into the playoffs, but what it does mean is that the Bucks and Celtics need to play some sub .500 basketball for the Raptors to have a shot.
The Raptors currently sit 10th in the standings behind the Philadelphia 76ers, however the goal is to get the 8th seed or maybe even the 7th seed, and not the 9th. The Raptors are better than the Sixers, so it’s only a matter of time before they pass them in the standings are knocking on the door of the Bucks and Celtics. If the Raptors can turn around a 4-19 record to go 18-14 they can muster together a few gutty performances and turn things around even more. Its been a while since the Raptors were relevant around the NBA, and now that we’re back in the eyes, ears and mouths of people around the league, it sure feels good. Buckle up Raptor fans because it’s going to be a bumpy ride to end out this 2012-2013 season, take it from Kevin Garnett,anything is possible.
Photo Cred: (AP Photo/Alex Brandon &Frank Gunn)