I have been a loyal Raptors fan ever since their first season in 1995. I've watched them through all of their ups and downs. From the silly contest to name the team, to ownership woes, all the way to rookie of the year awards and playoff success.
This year's squad has given Raptor fans like myself something to hope for. It's been 4 years since we tasted the playoffs, and a bit longer since our most successful playoff run, a second round appearance that ended a mere 2 points from the Eastern conference finals. Although most people (myself included) know that it is unlikely that this team can go deep into the playoffs with teams like Detroit, Miami, Cleveland and Chicago in the mix, it is quite likely that we will (a) make the playoffs, and (b) make some noise.
The first half of the 2006-2007 season is a tale in 3 acts. In the preseason, coach Sam Mitchell went 12 players deep, and the team flexed its depth. They went 7-1, the most impressive preseason ever for the Raps. But whatever, right? It's preseason!
Then, almost reminiscent to last year's start, we lose. And lose. And lose. An 0-5 west coast road trip and 5-10 for the month of November brought me back down to Earth.
But then, in December, things started to click. The team stop trying to run-and gun their way to victory (an approach that ended up being more run-and-done or run-and-dumb), and instead played smarter ball. More movement, more penetration, more trust in each other -- All of these things combined to form Raptor victories. On top of that, players that needed to step up in the absence of Chris Bosh (due to injury) did just that. Players that I will be grading over the next few days, like Andrea Bargnani, TJ Ford, Anthony "Don't call me Tony" Parker, and even Mo "herpes" Peterson improved their game.
And that brings us to today. The Raptors are one of the hottest teams in the East. We look poised and confident in the 4th quarters of games. We have players with "onions" that we can give the ball to at crunch time. Players are settling into their roles, getting consistent minutes, and in return are giving consistent effort.
In close games, instead of choking like last year, we can actually finish them and come out with victories. Remember the buzzer beater in LA against the Clippers? Or the overtime win in Portland? Even recently, sneaking out of the United Center with a win against the Bulls -- we are clutch.
The team gets a B+. Here's hoping that they get their grades up in the remaining 29 games. I can smell the playoffs. Let's have another taste!
Up next: The point guards