The Toronto Raptors are the Big Slick of poker – looks good before the game begins but how often does it really win when it matters most? Well, if you’re a Texas Hold’em player and you get Ace/King pre-flop then you know what I’m talking about. You bump the antes so hopefully, the weaklings fall out so that if you do lose, it won’t be to rags but with power hands like an elegant pair of royals in the hole.
But unlike poker, basketball games are predicated far more on skill than luck, although, certainly there are intangibles and unforeseen variables that can influence an outcome. The Toronto Raptors have the feel of that Ace/King, sometimes called Anna Kournikova, looks good but rarely wins. Let’s take last season when premier online sportsbooks like Sportsbetting.ag were listing the Raptors, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, as one of the favorites to wrest the NBA title away from the vaunted Golden State Warriors and into the Great White North. Instead of sweeping the No. 8 Wizards it took them six games to advance. While there’s no shame in going six as long as you win, it’s not the hallmark of a championship juggernaut. Needless to say, we all know what happened when they met King James and his band of Cavaliers in the second round. The brooms came out and the team with the best record in the East got a one-way ticket into the offseason.
Of course, we’re not referring to the regular season where the Raps meet a slew of weak opponents to beat up and pad their record, but rather the postseason when the big boys come to play. That’s the rub. Because Toronto seems to be a team that appears poised for the big time until the white-hot spotlight shines upon them and they melt in its unrelenting glare. Therefore, it’s not surprising that this season shades of déjà vu are enveloping this talented ball club with an identical 26-10 mark as to where they were last year after 36 games.
But perhaps this time around is different. There’s a thin line between genius and madness but whether Toronto firing last season’s NBA Coach of the Year, Dwane Casey, is an example of the former or the latter has yet to be determined. What we have right now is a team without their star shooting guard from last season, DeMar DeRozan who averaged 23 points per game, but now have a bona fide superstar in Kawhi Leonard averaging nearly 27 points per game and leading the team with 8.4 rebounds per contest. Leonard could very well prove to be an expensive one-year rental if he chooses to go elsewhere at season’s end but for right now, he’s made the Raptors a more legitimate postseason contender.
If we look at Toronto’s performance over the past six weeks we see a pattern that doesn’t bode well for their championship aspirations. Since November 16th, the Raps have gone 13-7 straight up, and for those inclined to wager with a top-notch online sportsbook like Sportsbetting.ag, their ATS (Against The Spread) record is 8-12. Now, of those seven losses, six came at the hands of NBA contenders Boston, Denver (twice), Milwaukee, Portland, and Philadelphia. With the notable exception of a stunning 113-93 win in Golden State on December 12th, the rest of their wins were primarily against the weak sisters of the league or those that were substantially short-handed.
We won’t know just how the Raptors will fare in the postseason but right now they are on track to at least match their 59 victories from last season. There is still a long row to hoe between now and April but perhaps this edition of the Raptors will be that Ace/King in the hole that lands a full-house on the flop and destroys the competition. Or maybe they will be a regular-season powerhouse that fails to connect in the playoffs. Time will tell.