With a 48-18 record in the East, the Raptors are a real threat to the Eastern Conference leaders Milwaukee Bucks. Toronto is the reigning NBA champion, and although they no longer have Kawhi Leonard, they have a good enough squad led by Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry. Both players were All-Stars this year and are extremely important to their team.
The Bucks have stolen headlines as the best team in the East, for good reason, since they hold the best record in the league and have most probably a two-time MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo. While the Raptors don't have an individual player with Antetokounmpo's talent, they are a better team and this will show in the playoffs.
Here are the five reasons why the Toronto Raptors will make the NBA Finals.
The Raptors are an excellent defensive team. They rank third in steals, and first in opponent points per game (OPG). They are probably the most disciplined team in the NBA, and credit goes to the efforts of the players and also of the coaching staff.
From top to bottom, the Raptors are an excellent organization and it might have to do with the signing of president Masai Ujiri. Bringing him in changed the franchise culture, and Nick Nurse has later done a tremendous job of boosting the team's defense.
Serge Ibaka (0.9 BPG) and Marc Gasol (0.9 BPG) are excellent post defenders, while guys like Kyle Lowry and OG Anunoby are excellent perimeter defenders. The Raptors rarely give up easy baskets, and they have shown that they can get stops in critical moments. Their Finals performance last season greatly helps the team with their confidence in getting stops too.
Nick Nurse seemed like a genius last year by guiding the Toronto Raptors to an NBA title over the Golden State Warriors. There is as clearly one of the best coaches in the league and he has continued his fine coaching form this year.
Nurse has led the Raptors to a 48-18 record which is good for second in the East and 5.5 games from the first seed. He is a player's coach and seems to perfect his lineups every game.
With guys like Pascal Siakam (23.5 PPG) and Fred Van Vleet (17.9 PPG) having career years, head coach Nick Nurse deserves credit for placing them in positions to succeed and exceed their potential. The Toronto Raptors have some of the best chemistry in the league and having a head coach like Nick Nurse certainly helps.
This leads to the third reason why the Raptors will make the NBA Finals. Raptors get along well with each other and seldom take bad shots on offense. Every player will sacrifice their own stats to help the team, as we have seen with the likes of Marc Gasol who is having a "down year" with his stats.
Gasol is averaging only 7.6 PPG but is still a critical factor in defense and with his leadership. Pascal Siakam, their best player, is one of the most humble stars in the league who plays hard every night.
Their leader, Kyle Lowry, was a journeyman in the league until he found his home in Toronto. He plays hard with his pitbull style of play and has tasted the sweetness of postseason victory. Their entire squad is on the same page which makes them a legitimate threat in the East.
There isn't anything more important to title contenders than championship experience. Playing in circumstances with the highest stakes only makes title contenders better.
The Raptors had to get through quite a gauntlet last season in the playoffs, beating the 76ers, Bucks, and then the Warriors. The Philadelphia 76ers team last year was better than this year since they had All-Star forward Jimmy Butler on the squad. The Bucks were still the best team in the league and had MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Warriors were still a threat without KD and Klay who were out with injuries.
The Raptors proved that they can play the best teams in the league and come out on top, so their confidence is sky high going into the postseason.
1. Underrated NBA Champions
For whatever reason, the Raptors have seemingly flown under the radar. Perhaps it's due to the fact that Kawhi Leonard is no longer part of the team, as the Raptors hold a top two record in the East and are still not considered on the same level as the Milwaukee Bucks or even the Boston Celtics.
This actually plays to their advantage in the playoffs, since teams will tend to overlook Toronto and feel that they have better players. While that may be the case on paper, the Raptors have Siakam who was a Team Giannis starter and Kyle Lowry who is one of the best leaders in the game. They have contributors throughout the squad including Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Fred Van Vleet, and OG Anunoby among others.
If teams sleep on the Raptors, Toronto will make them pay and find themselves in the NBA Finals.