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Toronto Raptors -- For Real or Facade?

   by Matt Fargo - 02/04/2007

The hottest team in the NBA behind the Mavericks and Suns is a team that hardly any would guess. The Raptors have won three straight, six of seven, eight of 10, 10 of 13 and 12 of 16. That is a very impressive run from a team that started the season 7-14 and was going nowhere fast with an up-tempo offense trying to mirror that to Phoenix. Head coach Sam Mitchell did something that rarely works in the NBA and that is change styles midseason and now Toronto finds itself in first place in the Atlantic Division.

Toronto is doing some really good things with an improved defense. The Raptors have moved to a very respectable 14th in the league in points allowed at 98.3 ppg and this is with an average of 105.4 ppg allowed through its first 10 games. Toronto has allowed just 92.8 ppg during its last 13 games. However, is it really this impressive or have the Raptors been fortunate by playing a soft schedule? Overall, they have played the 22nd ranked schedule while six of their last 10 wins have been against teams ranked 25th or worse.

This is an important stretch for Toronto as it faces a rugged slate prior to the All-Star break. The Raptors must face the Magic, Lakers, Pistons, Bulls and Nets and while it isn’t a make-or-break stretch, it will decide a lot on how Toronto will react during the second half. The Raptors have been able to beat up on the bad teams, going 17-10 against teams outside the top 16 while going 8-13 against the teams inside that mark including a 3-11 record against the NBA’s top ten.

If you haven’t heard of Jose Calderon, Jorge Garbajosa or Rasho Nesterovic don’t worry, not many people have but these three players are part of the starting lineup that is playing with some of the most confidence in the league. Calderon has started seven games in the absence of starting point guard T.J. Ford and has put up 15 ppg and 9.3 apg. Ford is back and coming off the bench and the most impressive aspect is that it was Ford’s decision as he didn’t want to mess with the team chemistry during his recovery.

The catalyst of this team is Chris Bosh, as he is proving he is one of the best forwards in the league. Bosh has been a monster since returning from his knee injury as he has averaged 25.4 ppg and 9.1 rpg in 17 games, scoring fewer than 20 points only once. It’s no secret that the recent Toronto run has coincided with his return. To find the previous time the Raptors had more wins than losses this late in the season, you have to go all the way back to January 19th, 2004 when they were 20-19.

Based on the strength of their upcoming games, we should be seeing some favorable lines backing Toronto. It could be a risky proposition however as mentioned earlier about its struggles with the better teams in the league, notably the Western Conference. Toronto is 8-14 against teams from the west but still a profitable 12-10 ATS. Against the Eastern Conference, the Raptors are 17-9 both straight up and against the number once again proving the fact they are beating the teams they need to.

Toronto is 5-16 straight up and 10-11 ATS as a road underdog but is 19-7 straight up and 18-8 against the number in all other spots. The Raptors will be road underdogs at Detroit and Chicago in their next two road games but prior to that, they host Orlando and Los Angeles where they are 14-8 against the number. It is going to be interesting to see how Toronto plays in this upcoming stretch as the competition gets tougher but the confidence level is at a season high. Riding the Raptors might not be a bad idea.

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