Apr 9, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) is followed by guard Kyle Lowry (7) and center Jonas Valanciunas (17) as he comes off the court bleeding during the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Air Canada Centre. Toronto defeated Philadelphia 125-114. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NBA Playoffs: Previewing the Toronto Raptors

Record: 48-34

Head Coach: Dwane Casey

Regular Season Team MVP: Kyle Lowry

First Round Opponent: Brooklyn Nets

Regular Season Series vs. Nets: Tied 2-2

The Toronto Raptors had a rough beginning to the season. Before the calendar flipped to 2014, they were only 14-15, despite ending 2013 on a three-game winning streak. They picked up their play in 2014, going on six three-game winning streaks and never losing more than two games in a row. Kyle Lowry has become the point guard they’ve been wanting out of him. DeMar Derozan has been a constant scorer. Jonas Valanciunas has been terrific and very underrating up front. Toronto has become a team to look out for. They have a solid roster that allows some versatility, making them a constant threat to compete throughout the entire game.

No matter what happens from this day forward, the Raptors can already consider themselves winners. Just the fact that they are in the playoff discussion shows how far they have come. In its 19 year history in the league, the franchise only has one playoff series win. They haven’t even been to the playoffs since 2008. Not to mention, they have the power and talent to win a series and potentially threaten one of the top two seeds in the next round. The Raptors are way ahead of schedule on their rebuilding plans, have recaptured the attention of their fans and are probably the best version of the team to have ever existed. In other words, they have already won.

Strengths: Their main strength is on the defensive end. They are tied for 5th in opponent’s points per game at 97.6. They are tied for 9th in opponent’s field goal percentage at 45 percent. They are also very strong at the free throw line, ranked 4th in the league at 78 percent. Toronto is also ranked in the top-10 in turnovers per game, ranking 9th with only 13.5 turnovers per contest.

DeMar Derozan has been spectacular this year. He has led the game in scoring in 26 games this season. In those 26 games, the Raptors have won 16 of them. With that being said, the Raptors have a good chance of winning when DeRozan leads the way in scoring. Even more spectacular, the Raptors are 6-1 when Kyle Lowry leads the game in scoring. What makes the Raptors such a threat is that they have a roster full of people that score wildly. Don’t forget, DeRozan has had a plethora of games over 30 points including one where he scored 40. Terrence Ross went for 51 against the Los Angeles Clippers on January 25. The point is, anyone can step up and score for this team. That makes it difficult for opposing defenses to key in on a particular person. They need to key in on the whole team, placing the advantage with Toronto. Another strong point is their play at home since the calendar flipped. They are 18-6 when playing in front of their own fans in 2014. They have been tough to beat and will pose as an advantage come playoff time, especially with homecourt in the first round.

Weaknesses: The Raptors need to do a better job of getting steals (ranked 23rd with 7.1 per game), blocking shots (ranked 21st with 4.3 per game), making their shots (ranked 22nd in FG%) and winning in close games (1-6 when games go to overtime). They will need a lot of help from their bench if they want to win, which shouldn’t be too hard since they have a lot of depth.

Although they have been winning a lot as of late, you do have to take in account that they started the season off on a bad note. They were 9-14 at one point. They were having a tough time winning. Of course, they did figure it out and got into a groove, but for teams like this it could be really easy to fall back into those early season bad habits.

Playoff Ceiling: The Toronto Raptors can definitely make some noise in the playoffs at the rate they are winning right now. They closed the season by willing nine of their last 12 games and have been on a complete tear since the calendar changed. They will be in a good spot to have an advantage in the first round, against the Nets. With that being said, the second round will be tough — and it’ll probably be against the defending back-to-back Champion Miami Heat. I would say their ceiling lies no higher than past the second round.

What Will Happen: Being in a good position for the first round, they will probably have no problem with it. I say they win the first two games, lose the third and then finish their opponent off in five or six games. When they get to the second round, it will be tougher and they will have a lot to prove. However, I think they will definitely put up a fight and not back down. This team is hungry. The series will probably go to six games, if not seven. Of course, that depends on who they play. I predict they lose in the second round in six games, 4-2.


Editor’s note: This was a guess post from Justin Becker of FantasyBasketballMoneyLeagues.com. You can follow him on twitter at @NBAFantasyInfo, and you can follow the Fantasy Basketball Money Leagues Google+ Page. For more NBA basketball news visit FantasyBasketballMoneyLeagues.com, a fantasy basketball blog.

Tags: NBA NBA Playoffs Toronto Raptors

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