They’ve been here before, these Toronto Raptors — on the verge of becoming a playoff force, something more than a tough regular season contender. But this year has a different feel, like it might just happen. Despite a loss to the OKC Thunder that snapped the Raptors 11-game win streak, Toronto remains the favorite in Las Vegas to win the Eastern Conference. It’s not a big lead: Raptors are 9/5 with the Cavs at a similar 2/1. (The Celtics are at 3/1).
Maybe it’s the presence of playoff-tested Serge Ibaka, or maybe it’s just the continued maturity and unselfishness of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. But the stats that make the Raptors such a favorite are hard to ignore. Consider that Toronto has the best home record in the NBA at 29-6. That’s not the best home record in the Eastern Conference, but it’s a better record than the Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors too.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey has been at the helm since 2011 and he’s watched this team grow as a unit. See video above for a lesson by Casey in how not to pass the buck. (Yes, the officiating was bad but “we made enough mistakes,” he says.) Casey recognizes that the OKC game was a precursor for the “speed we’ll see in the playoffs” and the “physicality.” That has been the difference in seasons past between regular season Raptors and playoff Raptors — and it sounds like Casey is getting his guys ready for phase 2.