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New York Knicks v Toronto Raptors

Devang Desai is a Raptors fan who writes for theScore’s “Counter Attack” and “100 Yards and Running” blogs. He attended a Raptors game for the first time in years on Friday night and wanted to share his observations with us…

By: Devang Desai

The buzz was palpable. There were more people on Bremner Blvd. than I had seen in some time. The Raptors were hosting the Knicks in what would be one of the biggest games on the calendar.

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Matt Devlin vs. Wale

Photo courtesy of J.E. Skeets on twitter.

Matt Devlin ain’t about that life, or is he? (Photo courtesy of J.E. Skeets on twitter)

The Raptors beat the Wizards in a sloppy game in Washington on Tuesday night to extend their winning streak to five games, but the most entertaining part of the contest was undoubtedly the feud between Matt Devlin and D.C. rapper Wale, who was sitting courtside and got the attention of Devlin by chirping Rudy Gay.

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Toronto Raptors v Indiana Pacers

A horrific start, a ridiculous series of heartbreaking losses, a couple of encouraging winning streaks, more frustration, a blockbuster trade, a new era and an inspiring 5-2 run over the last couple of weeks. The pre-All Star break portion of the Raptors’ 2012-13 campaign has been the definition of a roller coaster season.

But this isn’t the time to recap the last four months of insanity – that’s what the hundreds of posts here since the beginning of the season have done piece by piece. No, now is not the time to look back, but rather the time to look forward to what awaits us in the unofficial second half of this most interesting season.

The Raptors enter the All-Star break on a four-game winning streak that puts them at 21-32 after 53 games and 10th place in the Eastern Conference. The obvious questions from fans will revolve around what the Raptors need to do to get back in the playoff conversation in the East, and we’ll get to that, but there are a few other things to watch for and monitor in the second half other than just the standings.

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By: Alex Campbell

Fellow theScore employee and hardcore Raptors fan Alex Campbell looks into the relationship between Toronto’s three-point shooting and their overall success.

Sometimes it takes something to be pointed out to you before you really begin to notice. Grantland’s Zach Lowe wrote this piece on the Knicks and their three-point shooting back on December 14. At the time, the Knicks were leading the Eastern Conference with a record of 17-5, had just beaten the Lakers at the Garden the night before and, according to Lowe, were hitting 41% of their three-point shots – shots they were attempting at a record pace.

The Raptors, meanwhile, were struggling. On December 14, they came home to the Air Canada Centre to face the Mavericks with a 4-19 record, were in the midst of a six-game losing streak and had lost 12 of their last 13 games. But suddenly, the Raptors began to have success. They pounded the Mavericks by 21 while hitting 12 three-pointers for just the second time on the year. That result kick-started a five-game winning streak, and after beating the Bobcats on January 11, the Raptors had won 10 of 13 games.

During the streak, I really began to pay attention to the three-point shooting, and an increase in three-point attempts played a factor in helping the Raptors move their way up the standings. Prior to the game against the Mavericks on December 14, the Raptors were averaging seven made three-pointers on 21.1 attempts per game (33% as a team). But during the 13-game run, the Raptors increased their average to nine made three-pointers on 24.9 attempts per game (36%).

While it’s difficult to point to just one player as the main catalyst for the increased three-point production during the Raptors’ run, Alan Anderson’s return to the Raptors line-up from injury was huge. During the 13-game sample, Anderson averaged a team-high 2.3 made three-pointers on 6.1 attempts, 0.3 made three-pointers and 0.6 attempts above his season average. Anderson is the team’s leading three-point shooter this season in terms of shots made, with 2.0 made three-pointers per game and 2.8 made three-pointers per 36 minutes of action. Terrence Ross, Kyle Lowry and Jose Calderon were also key contributors from behind the three-point line during the successful string of games, making 1.75, 1.71 and 1.5 three-pointers per game, respectively, although Lowry only played the last seven games of the run due to injury.

The Raptors most recent four-game losing streak saw them revert back to where they were earlier this season. With the exception of Friday night’s game in Philadelphia, where they made 11 of their 25 three-point attempts and really should have come out with the win, the Raptors have been shooting from deep way less (14 attempts per game, excluding Friday), and therefore, making less (5.3 attempts made per game, excluding Friday).

Despite struggling with the three-point shot down the stretch on Friday, and to a certain extent on Sunday, the Raptors are better off shooting the three more often than they have during their recent losing streak. The Knicks are continuing to shoot threes at a high rate and it’s leading to success. They have a 25-13 record to lead the Atlantic Division, and they have hit the most three-point shots in the league (425), while attempting the second-highest amount (1,098). The Raptors, on the other hand, sit ninth in the league in three-pointers made (311) and are eighth in three-pointers attempted (896), with 38% of the three-pointers they’ve made this season coming during the 13-game stretch where the team went 10-3.

Four players in the rotation right now (Anderson, Ross, Calderon and Lowry) are capable of serious hot streaks from deep, and we’ve seen several of those hot streaks recently, including Friday against Philadelphia with Ross, last Sunday against Milwaukee with Calderon and Sunday before that against Oklahoma City with Anderson (Lowry’s back-to-back threes against the Lakers yesterday helped the Raptors stem the L.A. tide as well). It’s easy to say a basketball team will see more success with more three-pointers made, but you have to take them first, and the Raptors’ recent hot and cold streaks are a perfect example of that.

Not to mention that as a fan of this team, it’s fun to watch when the threes are dropping one after another.

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Kevin Durant and DeMar DeRozan obviously discussing their eventual Toronto partnership in 2016

It’s actually not the first time Kevin Durant has talked about his childhood love for the Raptors, but Durant admitted on a pretty big public scale today (the Dan Patrick Show) that he “wanted to play for the Toronto Raptors” as a kid for a couple of reasons, namely their unique jerseys and Vince Carter’s Vinsanity.

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