Toronto Raptors in for a Gruelling February


Toronto Raptors in for a Gruelling February

Life has not been easy for the Toronto Raptors over the past two games.

Disappointing home losses to the severely undermanned Milwaukee Bucks and the division-rival Brooklyn Nets have left those around the team scratching their heads.

After all, this unexpected rough patch came on the heels of a six-game winning streak that saw the Raptors play some of their best basketball of the season, albeit against some weak competition.

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Failing to emerge victorious in winnable games early in the month could come back to haunt Dwane Casey’s group, seeing as the next eight opponents boast plus-.500 records. The Raptors could very well be looking at their first losing month since November of 2013.

Love is supposed to be in the air in February, but for Toronto, it will be more like a series of dates with jilted exes.

Jan 25, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard Terrence Ross (31) hits a three-pointer against the Los Angeles Clippers at Air Canada Centre. The Clippers beat the Raptors 126-118. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

First on the docket, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin lead the high-flying Los Angeles Clippers into the Air Canada Centre on Jerome Williams bobblehead night, eager to avenge a convincing loss to Toronto earlier in the season. Los Angeles is a fixture in the Western Conference playoff picture, so coming east could serve as a reprieve for the club. However, “Lob City” will be playing the tail end of a back-to-back set, and are in the midst of a taxing eight-game road trip, so that will help the Raptors’ cause. Keep in mind the last time the Clippers were north of the border, Terrence Ross exploded for 51 points.

On Sunday, the Raptors play host to the reigning NBA-Champion San Antonio Spurs, who are currently the seventh seed in the Western Conference. That alone gives you an indication of just how tough it is out west. Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard has emerged as the Spurs’ top scoring threat, while the ageless Tim Duncan still averages a double-double. At the very least, San Antonio should give Toronto a lesson in how to play fundamentally sound, team basketball.

The Raptors close out their home stand and head into the all-star break after a third clash with the Washington Wizards – the team directly below them in the Eastern Conference standings. Toronto has had Washington’s number so far this season, winning once in blow-out fashion, and once in overtime. As witnessed by the Brooklyn game, it is difficult to dispatch a team on three consecutive occasions, especially one with the Wizards’ level of talent. Kyle Lowry and John Wall will go head-to-head once again before starting alongside one another in the All-Star Game.

Nov 26, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) shoots the ball in front of Toronto Raptors guard Louis Williams (23) during the second half at Philips Arena. The Raptors won126-115. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

In the first game following the break, the We The North gang takes their talents to Atlanta for a showdown with the NBA-best Hawks on Feb. 20. This will be the final regular season matchup between these clubs, and Atlanta will be looking to knot the season series at two games apiece. Registering the first 17-win month in history, the entire Hawks starting lineup was named NBA Player of the Month. The way this group moves the basketball is an absolute pleasure to watch, especially when a play ends with a Kyle Korver three-pointer. Mike Budenholzer’s team is a legitimate contender, and it will be nice not having to worry about them again until the postseason.

On the second night of a back-to-back, Toronto travels to the Lone Star State to take on the Houston Rockets. Powerhouse centre Dwight Howard will not be in the lineup for that one, undergoing a knee procedure that will sideline him for at least four weeks. The Rockets still roll out an imposing group of players, led by the NBA’s leading scorer in James Harden, so the Raptors will be hard-pressed to walk out of the Toyota Center with a W.

From Houston, the Raptors invade New Orleans to do battle with Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans. When these teams hooked up in January in Ontario’s capital, Davis and Jrue Holiday were both out of commission for the visitors, but they still managed to pull out a victory. If Toronto was unable to handle the depleted Pelicans, the odds are not in its favour with the association’s most dominant big man back in the lineup.

Dec 20, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks power forward Dirk Nowitzki (41) shoots over Toronto Raptors power forward Amir Johnson (15) during the game at American Airlines Center. Toronto won 109-108. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

There will be no time to soak up the music and culture that “NOLA” has to offer as the Raps return to Texas to play their second game in as many nights. This time, the new-look Dallas Mavericks await. DeMar DeRozan sustained his groin injury against the Mavs back on Nov. 28, and Toronto will need its star wing player to contribute to have a chance in this one. Dallas has since added Rajon Rondo to its starting five, making the team’s first unit as formidable as any the league has to offer.

The end is in sight! The Raptors will finally return to the friendly confines of the ACC where they will face off with a not-so-friendly opponent. Who is it, you may ask? Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors. Owners of the Western Conference’s best record, the ‘Dubs’ have taken the NBA by storm in 2014-15. Equipped with a deadly starting lineup, the Warriors are also able to roll out a second unit of Andre Iguodala, David Lee, Marreese Speights and Shaun Livingston. Scared yet?

Finally, the basketball gods decide to show mercy on Canada’s lone NBA franchise, as the Raptors close out the month against the lowly New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Derek Fisher’s squad sits at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, which is all that needs to be said.

Buckle up, Raptors fans. This is looking like a truly terrifying month.