The Raptors have closed out their disappointing 2012-13 season in seemingly impressive fashion, as they head into Wednesday’s season finale against Boston on a four-game winning streak and winners of six of their last seven games. In addition, the last four victories have all come against Eastern Conference playoff teams seeded fourth to sixth, and April 2013 now marks just the second winning month for the franchise in the Post Bosh Era (February of this season was the first).
With a win against the Celtics tonight and a Milwaukee loss, Toronto will finish just three games back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, which would mark the closest they’ve been to eighth since early January. Regardless of tonight’s events and how the standings finish, the Raptors as an organization (except for Dwane Casey, who told it like it is on Tuesday night) will likely spin a tale of how encouraging the season ending streak was, how indicative of how good this team can be it is, how if only the season was a little longer they could have caught eighth or how if a few of those early season losses had gone their way, they’d be getting ready for the playoffs.
And I really hope that true Raptors fans aren’t naive enough to believe it all.
The truth is that the Raptors have been realistically out of the playoff race since early March or late February, lost home games to Cleveland and Washington (two teams who are probably as confident about improving next season as Toronto is) while they were still in the race, and were mathematically eliminated from contention with two weeks of the season to spare. Their streak also consists of two wins against a comically undermanned Bulls team and a win against a Hawks team that looked mentally checked out of the regular season by the second quarter.
And as for those slumping Bucks, they were eight games ahead of the Raptors just a couple of weeks ago and swept the three-game season series against Toronto fairly easily. They were locked into a playoff spot and almost locked into their seeding of eighth already in early April. Believe me, if they were in an actual battle for their playoff lives or really had something to play for, they don’t drop the last five games, which included losses to the Magic and Bobcats.
It’s not all negative for Raptors fans, as there are some positives to take away from the team’s current run. The pace and style of play the Raps are currently playing with is indicative of how this team can play next season if they bring largely the same team back. They can get stops, force turnovers and then punish teams by running and converting those stops into easy baskets the other way. In addition, the five-man unit of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas has the fourth-best defensive rating (92.4) of any five-man unit in the NBA this season and the eighth-best net rating (12.0) of any five-man unit.
Those positives, along with the fact that the Raptors are 16-16 with Rudy Gay in the lineup and should expect improvements from three rookies now logging regular minutes, can be cited as reasons to believe that this roster can play roughly .500 basketball next season and compete for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. If you’re looking at those factors and thinking realistically about 38-40 wins and the No. 8 seed in 2013-14, that’s a fair, reasonable assessment.
Just don’t put too much stock, if any, in the fact that this team is going to finish the season on an April roll and will make their playoff “chase” look respectable by finishing within three-to-five games of eighth. They’ve done it by beating playoff teams that have checked out of the regular season early and by closing the gap on an eighth-seeded team that hasn’t had anything to play for in a couple of weeks.
Putting all of your eggs in that basket heading into next season is an easy setup for disappointment. Don’t let yourself fall into that trap, no matter how often the team or other fans may try to shove it down your throat in the coming days and weeks.