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The Raptors May Be Ready To Face The West

The Raptors May Be Ready To Face The West
  • Scott Engel

Toronto’s Dynamic Duo May Be Ready to Topple LeBron

By Benjamin Weinberg

There are 30 teams in the NBA and 29 of them have homes within the United States of America. The Toronto Raptors are the one team outside the U.S., but they are playing better basketball than almost every other team in America. In recent years, the Raptors had tremendous success in the regular season, but they haven’t seemed to find their way out of the Eastern Conference Finals. In 2016, the Raptors lost in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers. This could be the season where the Raptors flip the script.

The dynamic one-two punch of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan has been unstoppable. While the two recently admitted that they were not always the closest of friends, they have been playing like they’ve had this chemistry for a long time. When looking at the best guard duos in the NBA, it is difficult to ignore the likes of Curry and Thompson (when healthy), Paul and Harden, Lillard and McCollum, Wall and Beal. However, the names Lowry and DeRozan can without a doubt compete with any of those pairings.

On February 2nd, the Raptors took down the Portland Trailblazers 130-105. The Golden State Warriors defeated the Raptors on 127-125 on on January 13th, but DeRozan had 42 points in that matchup. Lowry did not play in that game as he was sidelined with a tailbone injury.

DeMar DeRozan has been nothing short of phenomenal this season. On New Year’s Day, DeRozan scored a Raptors franchise record 52 points in an overtime win over the Milwaukee Bucks, taking down another MVP candidate, Giannis Antetokounmpo. DeRozan, a four-time All-Star, was named as a starter in the year’s game and was selected by captain Stephen Curry. Lowry, a four-time All-Star, was also selected by Curry.

Dwayne Casey, the Raptors head coach since 2011, has been keeping the Raptors at the number one in the spot East. The Raptors are currently third in the league with a defensive rating of 103.1. The Raptors seem to be cruising through the regular season and deserve the hype that is surrounding them, but the question remains: Can Lowry and DeRozan take down LeBron James, who has been to seven straight NBA finals? Well, DeRozan was recently named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week after he averaged 35.7 points in a three game span, and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.

On March 10, the Raptors just took down the Rockets, the hottest team in the NBA, and had an 11-game winning streak finally snapped on Sunday. The Houston Rockets were on a 17-game win streak, but the Raptors opted to continue its own streak at the time instead. Led by Kyle Lowry’s 30 points and DeRozan’s 23, the star duo secured the W. The two conference leaders could end up meeting in the NBA finals in the near future, forcing out the Cavaliers and the Warriors from the race.

Harden and DeRozan are both having MVP caliber seasons. Harden is the league-wide favorite for MVP. The two of them grew up together in Los Angeles playing AAU basketball and have a great amount of respect for one another. The two will likely continue to have great battles for many seasons.

In order to beat the Cavaliers, Casey will need to come up with a game plan to take down James. This includes finding a way to get Lowry and DeRozan to get their shots and creating defensive schemes to prepare against any offense. In addition, the Raptors will need other players to step up to achieve legitimate postseason success. Center Jonas Valanciunas will be crucial in the Raptors’ postseason success as he brings a great level of size and grit. Valanciunas is currently averaging 12.5 points per game and 8.6 rebounds per game.

The Raptors bench has been strong this season. C.J. Miles has been a huge addition t and provides them with strong offense off the bench. Miles in his 13th season in the NBA, is averaging 10.4 points per game and will be needed to help take the load off Lowry and DeRozan a bit.

Opposing teams have started to fear the Raptors. It’s clear they are playing with a vengeance this season and are coming right at the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics and Raptors have been the best in the East this season, but it’s difficult to imagine the NBA finals without LeBron.

DeRozan, at 28 years old, and Lowry at 31, are playing the best basketball of their careers right now. For a team that has been so phenomenal in the regular season these past couple of seasons, the Raptors should be disappointed with anything less than an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. In order to bring the West Coast to Canada in June, the tandem of Lowry and DeRozan need continue their epic play and the Raptors will need all the help it can get from its leaders on the bench.