“We’re not buried, but we’re five feet under. We’ve got a team that’s going to fight and claw and chip away and get to two feet, to three feet, and get above ground.”
That dose of honesty about how close the Raptors are to dead this season and the subsequent vote of confidence in his team comes from Kyle Lowry, via Ryan Wolstat on twitter.
While I agree that it’s almost impossible to be written off just 16 games into the season, I also think that realistic hopes of competing for a playoff spot this year may have slipped away when the Raptors lost games at Charlotte and at Detroit last week. They didn’t have to win both of those games, but considering other tough losses they had already taken (think the home opener against the Pacers and the triple-overtime thriller against the Jazz), they needed to grab at least one.
Some of those aforementioned tough losses had a lot to do with bad bounces (Al Jefferson tying the game with only his second career three-pointer in 25 tries) and poor officiating (the non-call in Charlotte), but at the same time, if you want to be a team fighting to get into the playoffs, you don’t lose all of those games on account of bad bounces and officiating. You just don’t.
So competing for a playoff spot will have to be put on the backburner for now, at least until this team proves capable of stringing some wins together. Right now, the Raptors should just be concerned with salvaging any shred of respectability this season and slowly digging themselves out of this hole, and that kind of ties in with Lowry’s statement about getting from five feet under to three feet, then to two feet, and so on.
I pegged this team for 39 wins and generally saw them in the 37-to-40-win range, good enough to just miss out on the postseason and a ninth or 10th place finish in the Eastern Conference. I saw the Raptors finishing within five games of eighth and perhaps even as close as one game out. More importantly, I thought they had put a team together that would be playing meaningful basketball through March and hopefully even into April.
The important thing to remember is that all of that hope existed even with the brutal start to the schedule. The way I saw it, an 8-14 record after 22 games would be ideal (the 22-game mark is up after next week’s five-game Western road trip). A 7-15 record was a little more realistic and a 6-16 record would put the team in a hole, but was still manageable. What they had to avoid was a record of 5-17 or worse, because teams don’t just come back from holes that big. Even the oft-referenced 2006-07 Raptors team never dipped below seven games under .500.
Looking at a 3-13 record now and an upcoming schedule that features a home date against the Suns before five games out West against the Nuggets, Kings, Jazz, Clippers and Trail Blazers, you quickly realize that for the Raptors to even hit my “manageable” mark, they’re going to have to split those six games. I’ve already mentioned that Friday night’s home date against Phoenix is an absolute must-win, no matter what anyone else says about it being too early for that kind of talk.
If Toronto can take care of the Suns at home, then the aim should be to steal two games out West (not likely), come home 6-16, and go from there. That’s far from an ideal situation to be in after 22 games, but with 60 remaining and some more favourable stretches at home still to come, it will at least leave them a chance to make a run and get back into the mix of teams playing for something.
Lose at home on Friday though, and even stealing a game on the road trip still leaves you 4-18. At that point, you can forget about playoffs or even making things interesting. At that point it becomes about simply playing to save people’s jobs, and even the most pessimistic Raptors fan couldn’t have seen that coming so early in this season of hope.