What Toronto Raptors Can Learn from Remaining Regular-Season Games
The Toronto Raptors have gone through a washing machine of emotions, but there are still some things that can be learned from their remaining regular-season games.
It just feels like nothing will go right for the Raptors. They'll string a couple of wins together one minute, only to follow up with multiple losses and two or three bad injuries.
Their season has been similar to a tearjerker storyline. It felt like we were all being introduced to the characters after the season began. We knew how bad these guys were, but all of the sudden we get introduced to a new character when Rudy Gay came in. That new character gave everyone so much hope, and like every good movie that effectively makes you cry, the team spiraled out of control and couldn't do much of anything to make a playoff push.
Still, though, a 26-44 record can't deter them from looking to learn. There are still lessons to be taught in Toronto's final 12 games.
Let's take a look at what those lessons will be by looking at each game individually.
All statistics in this article are accurate as of games played through Mar. 24.
Game 1 vs. Atlanta Hawks (Home)
Toronto is riding a four-game losing streak and chances are strong that it won't be getting any better after this game against the Atlanta Hawks.
Recent news of Rudy Gay potentially being shut down for the season is certainly a death sentence toward any word that starts with a "w" and ends in "inning." So what does that mean for this game against the Hawks?
That means this game is the start of Toronto's new season. Sure, it sounds like a statement that makes no sense, but the Hawks game is when the Raptors begin to focus more on growing than winning.
Try not to be thrown off by Toronto's lack of energy in the first half of this one. If the Raptors can keep the score close, then there's a good chance that they'll pick up the pace.
Lesson: Energy leads to staying competitive in games.
Game 2 vs. Detroit Pistons (Away)
These are the matchups that Toronto has to be looking forward to. They are so even with the Detroit Pistons from a skill-level perspective that they have to be excited about getting the chance to play these guys.
At least you would hope so.
Treating this one like a playoff game has the potential to help with future development. Clearly neither of these teams will be seeing the postseason until at least next year, but wouldn't it help if they already knew how to prepare for that type of game?
There's obviously no realistic way to simulate what an actual playoff environment will be like. The next best step is to do your best and in this situation, Toronto's best is to make it feel like one.
Lesson: Treat each game like it's a postseason game
Game 3 vs. Washington Wizards (Away)
Careers have a way of being defined by that one player you played against. That one guy you wanted to abuse when given the opportunity. That one guy you never feared but always respected.
That one guy people refer to as your rival.
It's way too early to tell, but maybe Toronto's Terrence Ross could develop that kind of relationship with the Washington Wizards' Bradley Beal. Both players are rookies and still trying to find their way in this league. They might not know it now, but maybe they'll have to get through each other to do that.
Ross needs to see some valuable playing time and Beal would be the ideal matchup. There's a lot of potential for them to push each other in a way that benefits both guys.
Lesson: The perfect time to start a Bradley Beal vs. Terrence Ross rivalry
Game 4 vs. Detroit Pistons (Home)
Just a quick question about the Detroit Pistons. Do they really have any fans? Do people truly like these guys?
Putting all hate aside, Toronto's game against the Pistons could give the Raptors a chance at finishing a three-game winning streak. This one is dependent on what takes place with the two prior games, but they're both very winnable.
Toronto doesn't have anything to play for as far as a postseason. However, remembering how to string together a couple of wins in a row is a priceless piece of knowledge.
One that all good teams understand.
Lesson: Continuing to understand how to win consecutive games.
Game 5 vs. Washington Wizards (Home)
Toronto gets the pleasure playing against the same team they played just a game before their last. The result of that one was a Raptors win, but don't expect anything to resemble the last time.
The game of basketball is about respect. Do you respect somebody enough to know that you need to play great basketball in order to destroy them, or do you not respect them and look up at the scoreboard after the final buzzer only to see that they got the best of you?
This sounds like the perfect game for Toronto to learn this lesson. The Raptors will have beaten the Wizards two games ago and be in the midst of a short winning streak. That's the perfect recipe for a disaster of a game for a team without much experience.
A blowout isn't out of the question in this one and Toronto will soon understand why it happened.
Lesson: Never underestimate your opponent
Game 6 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (Away)
The Minnesota Timberwolves have been hit hard by injuries. It could be an opportunity for Toronto to play with a deep rotation and a way for the Raptors to learn how to finish games.
A game is 48 minutes long, but there tends to be one defining moment in each game where the team leading either pushes it out to a larger lead or allows the other team to narrow the gap. You'll hear the term "step on their throat" in the world of sports and, though graphic, it is also one of the best ways to comprehend the idea of finishing a game.
Toronto needs to get off to a good start in this one, and when they do, they'll need to take advantage of the situations presented to them and step on Minnesota's throat. Playing good for three-quarters of the game will only do you good until you reach that final quarter. That's when you need to know how to close it out.
Lesson: How to finish games
Game 7 vs. Milwaukee Bucks (Away)
The Milwaukee Bucks sit in the East's eighth position and will most likely claim the final playoff spot. There was hope that Toronto might be able to catch them shortly after trading for Gay, but the Bucks kept playing basketball and the Raptors forgot how to.
Milwaukee is an interesting team and one that could shine some light on Toronto's weaknesses.
Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are ridiculously athletic guards who can get to the rim with ease. On top of those two, J.J. Redick is a lights-out shooter and Larry Sanders is a big man with a shot-blocking talent that players dream of.
Toronto will get exposed by one of these guys, and it'll help to show what specific positions need the most work.
Lesson: Finding out which positions Toronto is weakest at
Game 8 vs. Chicago Bulls (Away)
Toronto begins a home-and-home with the Chicago Bulls on the road, and it’ll be a great opportunity for the Raptors to play against a team that’s playoff-ready.
Chicago has done an exceptional job of slowly piecing together a team through trades and the draft. It’s a similar strategy to the one that Toronto is currently employing. This could be a chance for the Raptors' front office to do their homework and figure out why the Bulls have executed their game plan so effectively.
Don’t expect the Raptors to pull any shockers with this one. Chicago knows it can lock up another win for its record and will take the game more seriously than Toronto will. Toronto can still use this game as a possible predictor toward what their team could one day look like, though.
Lesson: The recipe for building a team through trades and the draft
Game 9 vs. Chicago Bulls (Home)
Now that the blueprint for building a team has been learned, it’s time for Toronto to get its young guys some experience.
Remember, this will be the second of back-to-back games for both teams, meaning that they’ll have some tired players. Tired players equals going to your bench for help and going to your bench equals finding younger guys. (Didn’t mean to turn that into a math lesson.)
Jonas Valanciunas will be one of those guys. He’ll be able to match up against Joakim Noah and hopefully get thrown around a bit. That might sound harsh, but it’s good for a young guy to see the work that needs to be done.
The box score of this one isn’t as important as who gets what minutes.
Lesson: Experience for the younger guys
Game 10 vs. Brooklyn Nets (Home)
There isn't a conscious lesson to be learned in this game against the Brooklyn Nets, but there is an interesting thought that could come from it.
Brooklyn fired its head coach Avery Johnson after starting the season with a 14-14 record. If the Nets kept up that kind of pace for the whole season, they would have finished with a 41-41 record. That's better than the Raptors can currently do, yet Brooklyn fired its coach after 28 games.
Raptors head coach Dwane Casey must be feeling like he needs to stand up soon because the seat he's sitting on is awfully hot. Getting beaten up by the Nets in Toronto's third-to-last game will only make it hotter.
Lesson: Getting an idea of if Casey is the right head coach
Game 11 vs. Atlanta Hawks (Home)
It started about 25 games ago, but playing for nothing has to have caught up with Toronto by now. Playing the Atlanta Hawks in their 81st game will probably feel like a waste of time, but the Raptors need to continue to use every remaining minute to improve.
There is no reason for Toronto to hold back and not play its bench and younger guys. If anybody can think of one, then please leave a comment down below and we'll discuss it.
Throw some different rotations out there and see who works best with whom in this game. It won't be a direct answer toward what to do with future rotations, but it will still provide some kind of idea and that's a small positive.
Lesson: Seeing who plays the best with whom
Game 12 vs. Boston Celtics (Home)
And that's it, folks.
The painful basketball that everybody had to witness will come to an end at the conclusion of this game. The Boston Celtics don't know it, but they'll be doing everybody a favor by just showing up to the arena.
I've harped on Toronto's bad play quite a bit throughout this article, and I feel like it's well-deserved. That being said, I do believe that these guys have a bright future. The majority of the squad is young and will be able to grow together if given the chance.
In the end, though, only time will tell.
As for this game, April 17, 2013 will be the date that the Raptors' pain ends.
And that's definitely a good thing.
Lesson: That every game is a chance to get better in some way.