Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Race For Gold...Or 50

Sure, there aren't any ringing cowbells. There are no waving flags. And the world has not come to set up camp in our city. But in the city of Toronto, there too begins a race for something that has yet to be experienced in Canada before. Our torch? The hot streak that has laid even the strongest of teams as victims. Our uniform? This team also proudly wears the red and white into every competition. And our gold? The 50 win mark. A goal that Canada's only NBA franchise - the Toronto Raptors - view to be within reach.

But can we make it?

Going into tonight's game against the Memphis Grizzlies (26-25), the Toronto Raptors seem to be finally hitting their stride. The men in red have managed to win their last 8 home games, as well as 8 of their last 10 games in general. In what was a dismal start to the most important season in the franchise's 15 year history, has now turned into a magical season that has the city of Toronto buzzing. Sitting somewhat comfortably in the 5th seed of the Eastern Conference with a record of 29-23, exactly what needs to happen next?

Well the picture is clearer than ever. 30 games left on the schedule. The pace needed for this race? 21-9.

Here are the remaining games on the schedule:

February Opponent
Wed 17 vs Memphis
Fri 19 @ New Jersey
Sat 20 vs Washington
Wed 24 vs Portland
Fri 26 vs Cleveland
Sun 28 @ Oklahoma City

March Opponent
Mon 01 @ Houston
Fri 05 vs New York
Sun 07 vs Philadelphia
Tue 09 @ LA Lakers
Wed 10 @ Sacramento
Sat 13 @ Golden State
Sun 14 @ Portland
Wed 17 vs Atlanta
Fri 19 vs Oklahoma City
Sat 20 @ New Jersey
Mon 22 @ Minnesota
Wed 24 vs Utah
Fri 26 vs Denver
Sun 28 @ Miami
Mon 29 @ Charlotte
Wed 31 vs LA Clippers

April Opponent
Sat 03 @ Philadelphia
Sun 04 vs Golden State
Tue 06 @ Cleveland
Wed 07 vs Boston
Fri 09 @ Atlanta
Sun 11 vs Chicago
Mon 12 @ Detroit
Wed 14 vs New York

Looking at the schedule, here are my worst case scenarios. I see 3 wins for the rest of February, 7 wins in March, and 5 wins in April. Obviously, these are my predictions if the Raptors take care of business against lesser teams and in games where they are the favorite. On the flipside, the Raps have been known to be no-shows on some nights. But if the team is fine with playing at a mediocre level for the rest of the season, that would leave them with a 15-15 record in the last 30 games of the schedule, and a final record of 44-38.

Unfortunately, that's 6 games shy of the 50 mark. The Raptors have proven to be capable of stealing games from stronger opponents during this recent surge, but I don't expect them to continue to knock out every elite team they come across. Realistically, I see them sneaking out a few wins against teams with better records, but then I also see them giving games away as well. If the Raps want that 50 mark, they're truly going to have earn it. The rest of the season will surely serve as a proving grounds...

Here are certain stretches in the remainder of the season that I think every Raptors fan should have marked on their calender:

- The next back-to-back sequence involves dates with the New Jersey Nets and the Washington Wizards. Much has been made of the Raps' struggles in back-to-backs, but if the team wants to reach 50, these are MUST WINS!

- The rest of February goes through games against Portland, Cleveland, and OKC. These games have 1 day of rest in between each other. Neither of these teams will just lay down for us. Going 0-3 during this stretch is something the Raptors need to avoid.

- The 4 game West Coast swing in March will have the Raptors facing off against LA, Sacramento, Golden State, and Portland. Ideally, you'd want the team to split the 4 game set. The LA game looks bleak, while taking on the Blazers on the second night of a back-to-back during a tiring trip makes things tough.

- Feb.28/29 has us playing Miami and Charlotte on a back-to-back. This really has more significance to the playoff race in general than it does with our quest for 50 wins. Though, technically speaking, finishing above these two teams will probably go hand in hand with the 50 win mark.

- Wow. Just looks at April 6-11. There's Cleveland, Boston, Atlanta, and Chicago. These are guaranteed classics if the Raptors decide to compete. Each and every one of these games will have a lot on the line. At this point, Cleveland will probably be duking it out with LA for home court advantage throughout the post-season. While Boston, Atlanta, and Chicago will all be duking it out for playoff positioning.

And there you go Raptors fan, the race for 50 wins. Just like the constant barrage of Canadian Olympic advertising campaigns always asks:

"Do you believe?"

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