#WEtheNORTH. The catchphrase that says it all. No, it’s not a GAME OF THRONES hash-tag. The Watchers on the Wall are not Tweeting. No, it refers to fans of the NBA’s only Canadian franchise: the Toronto Raptors. And they are on the rise. With the 20th Anniversary soon approaching, the team has started the re-branding process. As fate would have it, it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Last season, the Raps set a franchise record in wins. They won their division. They made the playoffs for the first time in years. 100s of fans filled up the area outside the arena. They are the only team in the NBA to have fans crazy enough to do that. It was such an iconic moment that the square was dubbed JURASSIC PARK. And popular rapper DRAKE is team ambassador. #started from the bottom now we here. Is that how hash-tags work?
Tonight, the Raptors play division rivals: the Chicago Bulls. The Raps are 7-1 this year. They are the best team in the Eastern Conference. Tonight’s match-up could very well be a sneak preview of the Eastern Conference finals. For Raptor fans, tonight is the must-see event of the early season.
In fact, for the first time since Bosh or Vince, the Raps are being Nationally televised. And I’m not talking about Raptor’s Nation here in Canada. I’m talking about the United States. Tonight, the NBA gets a little Northern Exposure.
So far in this early season our two “main men” (as Ahmad Rashad would say back in the day on INSIDE STUFF) are Kyle LOWRY & DeMar DEROZAN. These two are, debatably, the best backcourt in the NBA. I’m thinking of Golden State; not Washington, Mr. BEAL. The other day, Lowry went off for 35 points. Then a TRIPLE DOUBLE another day.
DeRozan’s been super-consistent. This work-horse is getting to the free-throw line close to 10 times a game. For me, this is what a star-player needs to do, especially if they aspire to lead the league in scoring. And he’s got that turn-around jumper, sometimes involving a 360 spin in the air.
Terrence ROSS has been developing nicely. He’s looked a lot more confident & comfortable shooting the ball lately, hitting several 3-Pointers a game. JV has been a little inconsistent with his shot. I don’t know if it’s a confidence issue or the fact that he recently got a busted hand and a busted face (in the same game)? The big man in the middle has a huge upside though, with tons of potential. In the East, where there aren’t many dominant Centers, I feel like JV has a chance to be one of the best – an emerging Eastern All-Star.
AMIR Johnson has been hampered by injury thus far. He is an integral part of the Raptor system. He provides toughness & determination alongside his points & rebounds.
The bench (a.k.a. the White Squad as they refer to themselves behind-the-scenes) have performed above expectations. We have a solid 5 to start, and another solid 5 to sub in. VASQUEZ and PATTERSON continue to be integral since joining from Sacramento last year. Patterson does a lot of important work, setting screens off the ball and keeping the ball in rotation. Not necessarily stat-book stuffers, but essential none-the-less.
Vasquez tends to shoot more than I’d like, or play iso ball. I prefer how Lowry balances this style of gameplay. That said, Vasquez knows how to run the show and is capable of taking over the game with his slashing & long range bombs. Psycho-T (Mr. HANSBOROUGH), always plays hard. He’ll battle in the post and fight for rebounds. His intangibles involve getting under the opponent’s skin like The Worm used to do.
The new additions round-out the bench. I’m talking about James JOHNSON returning and providing excellent man-to-man defence. And I’m talking about Louis WILLIAMS – the mini-Microwave. It didn’t take too many games for Lou to get used to the system. Now he’s a reliable insert for instant offense. His 1-on-1 skills are pretty impressive. He lets loose some pretty crazy shots.
I didn’t forget the man that gets it done. Dwayne CASEY. Coach. His “pound the rock” philosophy is coming into shape. The sculpture is visible within that chiselled rock. I can see what he’s designing. He handled a dramatic roster shift last season, turning the team into Division Champs. And the Raps keep improving. I’m sure if we get 50+ wins this year Casey’s got to be a Coach of the Year candidate.
It’s still early days, but I am highly optimistic that the Toronto Raptors can repeat their success from last year, and continue to pound the rock, improving on their previous franchise-best for season wins. I feel the Raps could realistically move past the 1st Round of the NBA Playoffs this year.
That would be a great way to lead into the 20th Anniversary season when Toronto hosts the ALL-STAR GAME with possibly 3 players on that roster (Lowry, DeRozan, and JV).
I’m posting this blog as the game begins. And I will update it after the game. I’m just so excited, I couldn’t wait. I hope tonight the team makes a statement. Fingers crossed, eh.
Are you a Raptor fan? Who’s your favourite player? Leave a comment.
Who should be an All-Star? Where does Toronto rank in the NBA?
POST GAME UPDATE:
The game just finished. The Raptors lose for the 2nd time this season, and the 1st at home. The Bulls won a close game. A true battle.
DeRozan had a rough night. JV rebounded like a madman early on before foul trouble limited his minutes. By the way, and I know every home team fan says this, the refs could have been better. The arena fans agreed, chanting “Bullsh*t” like it was hockey or something.
Toronto & Chicago focused on defence in the 4th. Early in the final quarter nearly every possession ended in a turnover or foul. Down nearly 20 with about 6 minutes remaining, the resilient Raps went on a run. They whittled the lead down to 5. But that would be as close as it would get.
A super exciting finish despite the loss. Now the national audience knows the Raps don’t quit.