THURSDAY MAY 25, 2017
 
Blog SPORTS EXTRAS
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THE RAPTORS THIS SEASON?
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After winning back-to-back divisional titles in 2014 and 2015, many expected the Toronto Raptors to push on and compete for the NBA championship this season. Although it’s still very early in the new campaign, the Raptors are currently on target to achieve that aim and sit atop the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division with a 7-4 record.

It’s been a long road but Toronto is, without a doubt, one of the National Basketball Association’s finest franchises. Formed back in 1995, the Raptors have emerged as one of the league’s most consistent teams in the past two years and head coach Dwayne Casey continues to shape them up to challenge for the crown.

The only thing keeping the Raptors from true legitimacy has been their propensity for playoff collapse. During the regular season, they’ve been of the league’s strongest clubs, attracting plenty of attention in the betting markets but have struggled to inspire confidence in the postseason. To put this into perspective, Coral price the Raptors at 1/3 to win the Atlantic Division but then value them at 66/1 to go all the way and clinch the NBA Championship.

Their main rivals for the NBA crown are likely to include the Cleveland Cavaliers and the San Antonio Spurs. While the Western Conference’s Spurs aren’t a major threat to Toronto’s reaching the NBA Final, the Cavaliers are. Both franchises are in the Eastern Conference and the Raptors will need to beat last year’s runners up if they are to stand a chance of success. At the time of writing, Coral value LeBron James and the Cavaliers at 11/4 to win the championship this season.

It would be fair to say that Toronto’s relatively straightforward division has lured fans into a false sense of security on more than one occasion. In each of the last two years, Toronto’s supporters have been filled with positivity ahead of the playoffs, only to see their team crash out and burn in the first round of the postseason – it’s simply not been good enough.

In 2014, the Raptors suffered an agonising 4-3 defeat to the Brooklyn Nets. In the final game of the seven-match series, the Nets won by a single point – a result that seriously damaged team morale in the Toronto dressing room. While they cruised to the divisional title in 2015, their previous playoff disappointment played on their mind and they were hammered 4-0 by Washington Wizards.

This season, however, there is plenty of cause for optimism at Air Canada Centre. The likes of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are playing some sensational basketball on both offence and defence. If the Raptors are to seriously compete in the postseason, both stars will be crucial to their chances of success in 2016.

So, can the Raptors go all the way this season? Potentially. It will be incredibly difficult but, with a bit of luck, Toronto has enough quality to go all the way. A third successive divisional crown is acceptable but anything less and the Raptors hierarchy will have to make a decision on Dwayne Casey’s future in Toronto.

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