Tonight, the Toronto Raptors begin their first and only back-to-back-to-back of the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 season.

After looking heartless and lethargic in a back-to-back against the Nets and 76ers over the weekend (outscored by a combined 47 points), Raptors fans may shudder over what this team could look like after playing three games in three nights in two different cities (Toronto and Washington) or what they may look like on their sixth and seventh games in nine nights against the Pacers and Bulls later this week.

But let’s not fret about a tomorrow that may never come. Instead, let’s go back 13 years, to the last lockout-shortened NBA season, and the last time the Raptors played a back-to-back-to-back.

The year was 1999. The Raptors were still considered a “new” franchise that had never even come close to tasting success. Charles Oakley was the team’s highest paid player, earning nearly $10.2 million. RaptorBlog didn’t exist yet, the term “blog” was unheard of, and yours truly was still trudging through elementary school. Simpler times, indeed.

The Raps actually played three sets of back-to-back-to-backs that season, as the NBA crammed 50 games per team into three hectic months.

The first came from March 15-March 17, when the Raptors, a young 6-12 team, shocked the basketball world by sweeping three games against the Charlotte Hornets, New Jersey Nets and Detroit Pistons on the backs of Doug Christie and a rookie named Vince Carter.

Just four days after completing one back-to-back-to-back, the Raptors started another stretch of three games in three nights from March 21-March 23, beating the eventual Eastern Conference champion Knicks to start the stretch before being pounded by the Nets in the middle game, then using a combined 48 points from Vince Carter and Dee Brown to dominate the Jordan-less Bulls by 23.

And finally, from April 19-21, the Raptors beat the Magic, were killed by the Hawks, and bounced back by blowing out the Wizards.

In total, the Raptors, who would eventually finish 23-27, went 7-2 in nine games that occurred during three different back-to-back-to-backs. They went a perfect 6-0 in the openers and finales, but struggled to a 1-2 record in the middle portion.

In continuing with tradition, I predict that the 2012 edition of the Raptors, a young team and franchise that still hasn’t tasted any real success, will beat the exciting Timberwolves to open this stretch, will beat the Kings to close out the string of three in three, and will find a way hand the Wizards their first win in the middle portion on Tuesday night in Washington.

Admit it, it sounds very Raptors-like.

Looking back on it, you can definitely draw some parallels between the 1999 Raptors and the 2011-2012 edition. Both teams relied on young, unproven talent, both teams had a few seasoned vets to keep the young guys in check, and both teams were coming off of 60-plus loss seasons.

The difference, of course, was that the ’99 Raptors had Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady, two players that although a few years away from their prime, both gave fans insanely high hopes for the future of the franchise. I like DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis, I admire Amir Johnson’s hustle and have been impressed with Andrea Bargnani so far this season, but let’s be honest, the Raptors do not currently employ anyone with a ceiling as high as Carter or McGrady.

While the ’99 Raptors failed to become the first team in franchise history to qualify for the playoffs (finished four games behind the eighth-place Knicks), they did hang around the race for a good portion of the season (they were 18-14 at one point and headed into April at .500), and certainly brought promise of brighter days ahead. The current edition of the Raptors don’t have the talent to realistically compete for a playoff spot, but they can deliver some of that same promise.

Here’s hoping that some time in 2025, we can look back at the 2011-2012 Raptors with the same fond memories the ’99 team gave us.