Coming into the 2010-2011 NBA regular season, the Toronto Raptors had little to no expectations. They were tossed aside by experts and critics who said that without Chris Bosh, the Toronto Raptors would be lucky to win twenty plus games. During the offseason, Bryan Colangelo made small but solid additions like Linas Kleiza, Leandro Barbosa, and several other minor pieces while getting rid of problems like Hedo.
The Raptors began the 2011 campaign with a wretched 2-8 record and weren't looking good by any means. Since that terrible start, the Raptors lost two very close games against the despised Miami Heat and the young Washington Wizards.
Since that game against Washington, the Raptors have won three straight games against Philadelphia, Boston and Houston, and they have looked very good. It is also very likely that tonight's game against Philadelphia will push their run to four straight, considering that they are absolutely crushing the 76ers.
So it is clear that things are starting to get better in Raptorland. Here are some of the reasons that I believe the Toronto Raptors have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs this season.
One of the keys to the Raptors having any chance of making the playoffs is Andrea Bargnani. Barney has been fantastic this season, his production is way up. Barney is in the best shape of his life and it shows. His point production is way up and his rebounding totals have increased slightly.
He looks confident and has little indecision when he gets the ball. He is taking better shots and is looking to drive when he gets the balls. At the same time, he is still taking three-pointers when he has the opportunity. He has been hot of late and has become the most legitimate scoring option for the Toronto Raptors.
Last season was last season. Reggie Evans spent the majority of the 2010 season injured and was never fully healthy even when he returned. Most fans were disappointed by Reggie's performance and they were quite hard on him.
Now, a healthy Reggie Evans with the opportunity to start has been doing all the defensive dirty work that Chris Bosh was never able to do. Chris Bosh's offensive game is missed, but the amount of effort and enthusiasm Evans contributes on a daily basis almost makes up for it.
Tonight, Evans set the Raptors all time record for rebounds in a half with 15. If Evans can keep up his monster defensive numbers, the Raptors have a good chance of winning a few more games than first thought.
A Really Bad Eastern Conference
It is a massive relief that the Toronto Raptors aren't playing in the Western Conference, because then I wouldn't be writing this article. The Western Conference tends to have plenty of teams with above .500 records that don't even make the playoffs.
Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the No. 6,7, and 8 seeds are usually .500 or sub-.500 teams. So, if the Raptors can just stay near the .500 mark the Raptors have a good shot at sneaking into the No. 8 seed.
The truth is, nobody has any idea how the rest of the regular season is going to play out. But, one thing is for sure, that the Raptors can make the playoffs, especially in a really terrible Eastern Conference. The Raptors are a group of hard-working, blue collared guys like Reggie Evans who bring their lunch pails to the arena every day.
They have all checked their ego's at the door and they click as a team. Their offense may not be mind-blowing, but if they can come together and play good hard-nose defense, they should be fine. Raptors fans should be very excited for what will be an interesting and hopefully inspiring 2011 regular season for the Raps.