For the third season in a row the Toronto Raptors have clinched a berth to the post-season. As the scenario currently stands, the Raptors would occupy the Eastern conference’s second seed should the playoffs start today.
With the schedule now entering the final phase it would be a wise move to rest the players who the team will depend on most in the playoffs, all-stars DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
There is no doubt that the current team will be judged on their playoff performance. The past two seasons have seen the Raptors return to the playoffs only to be bounced out in the first round – despite having home court advantage. This time around, simply making the playoffs will not be enough.
There have been multiple teams that use this tactic of resting players – helping to exemplify the benefits that come from giving players the ‘night off’. Take Gregg Popovich’s model with the San Antonio Spurs for example (see Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli). The team sacrifices regular season play for post-season longevity and that’s exactly what the Toronto Raptors should be doing.
Winning will determine the success of this team. A team that is statistically Toronto’s best ever.
The biggest benefits from rest are obvious. Firstly – the risk of injury is taken away almost entirely. Furthermore a player will be able to come back rejuvenated and ready to contribute to his team.
The Raptors are the only team in the NBA to have two players in the top ten in minutes per game this season. The statistics also show that DeRozan has only missed one game of the 73 played so far and Lowry has missed just two. Lowry sits second in minutes per game averaging 37.2, while DeRozan is sixth averaging 36.2. There is no doubt compared to the rest of the NBA these guys are putting it all out on the floor.
The Raptors sit just 2.5 games behind the number 1 seed Cleveland Cavaliers – and theoretically could still catch them. The Cavs have been looking more and more dysfunctional of late and simply look like a team that doesn’t want it. The importance of the number 1 seed could prove pivotal should both teams make the Eastern Conference final, however the Raptors will have to get out of both the first and second round.
The fact is it seems unlikely that Cleveland will give up 3 of their remaining 8 games. The Raptors would also likely have to win 6 or 7 as well if they were to unseat top spot. The schedule will remain tough for Toronto, and while these games are winnable the chance to catch Cleveland seems to have faded.
The risk associated with getting first place in the east is simply not worth the reward. If Toronto finishes in the second seed they won’t face the Cavs should they make it out of the first round. It’s also highly unlikely that the Hawks catch up to the Raptors as they’re 5 wins behind.
The Raptor’s first round opponent will probably remain a mystery until the final day of regular season, however this does put Toronto in a great position.
Indiana, Detroit, Chicago, Washington and Charlotte will be battling night in and night out and aren’t in the position to rest any of their key players. Chicago and Washington are on the outside looking in, and as a result no-one can afford giving up a win at this pivotal part of the season. Toronto will not only have home court advantage but be far more prepared to go than whoever their opponent turns out to be.
Earlier this season there were games that this team should have won and had they done so it would be the Raptors in the number 1 position right now. With the situation as it is, right now is the time to give up the chase and concede to Cleveland’s home court advantage. The benefits that come with doing so could prove pivotal in both the first and second round. If it is a conference final against Cleveland that ensues than so be it. The team must give up the short term battle if they want to win the war.