Toronto Raptors have to beat NBA’s best to silence doubters

TORONTO, ON - MAY 05: Lebron James
TORONTO, ON - MAY 05: Lebron James /

If the Toronto Raptors are to get more respect around the NBA, they need to step up during a 10-day, six-game stretch which includes clashes with three of the League’s top teams.

Over the Christmas break Paul Pierce sounded off on the 2017-18 Toronto Raptors. The 10-time NBA all-star said he’s not really sold on them yet.

As reported at the time by Sportsnet‘s Michael Hoad, Pierce went on to say the ceiling for the Toronto Raptors is probably another Eastern Conference elimination. The Raptors’ old nemesis may be just be stirring the pot, but he makes a valid point:

"“I’ve seen this replay from the Raptors,” Pierce said. “A great regular-season team, where they end up in the top-four, home-court advantage, just to see them get bounced again in the playoffs.”"

Pierce has seen it first hand, helping eliminate the Raptors in consecutive post-seasons, first with the Brooklyn Nets in 2013-14 and then as part of the Washington Wizards the next year. Both years Toronto came in as the heavy favourite, and both times they were defeated by a weaker opponent.


For the past four seasons, the Toronto Raptors have been the most consistent team in the East. Although players and personal have changed, the Demar DeRozanKyle Lowry duo has been at the forefront of all those teams.

Here is the year-by-year breakdown:

2013-14: 48-34 (third in East), eliminated first round by the Brooklyn Nets 3-4

2014-15: 49-33 (fourth in East), eliminated first round by the Washington Wizards 0-4

2015-16: 56-26 (second in East), eliminated in Eastern Finals by the Cleveland Cavaliers 2-4

2016-17: 51-31 (third in East), eliminated in Eastern semifinals by the Cleveland Cavaliers 0-4

With a 28-11 record entering Thursday’s action, the Raptors are on pace for around 59 wins this season and DeRozan and Lowry are again leading the charge.

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That would eclipse the 2015-16 regular season mark of 56, which was also their best post season run.

This Raptors team has proved they are above average and can beat weaker opponents, but they have had limited success against top-tier opponents. Starting on Jan. 11 the Raptors will have a six-game litmus test against some of the League’s-best, and will have a chance to prove to Pierce and the rest of the NBA that they are an elite club.

The Toronto Raptors finished last season tied with the Cavaliers, but when they met in the second round of the playoffs, LeBron James and company made easy work of them.


In a 10-day stretch the Raptors will play six-games – three against elite teams (Cavs, Warriors, and Spurs), two young resurgent clubs (Pistons and Timberwolves) and one against a mediocre, but still tough, 76ers team.

Jan. 11 – Cleveland Cavaliers

Jan. 13 – Golden State Warriors

Jan. 15 – Philadelphia 76ers

Jan. 17 – Detroit Pistons

Jan. 19 – San Antonio Spurs

Jan. 20 – Minnesota Timberwolves


Toronto has racked up the wins over the last two months, going 20-6 (.769) since Nov. 14, but they have played only one elite team, a 124-105 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. In fact, Toronto has gone 1-4 against the NBA’s top-teams this season.

The Raptors lost back-to-back games against the Warriors and Spurs in October, but were competitive in both contests. They then played two-straight games against the Celtics and the Houston Rockets in November. The results were a close loss to Boston, followed by a decisive victory over the Rockets.

Over the last four years Toronto has struggled against the Spurs, Warriors, and Cavaliers.

Cleveland: 6-8 (8-16 including playoffs)

Golden State: 1-7

San Antonio: 3-5

The injury status of Lowry could have a huge impact on the Raptors’ success in this short six-game stint. With Steph Curry back with the Warriors and Isiah Thomas now playing for the Cavs, the Raptors will have to be back at full force if they want to beat the big teams.

As good as this team has been over the last four seasons, they have struggled in the playoffs. Even when they went to the Eastern Finals, they were pushed to seven games by weaker opponents in the first-two rounds.

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If the Raptors are going to establish themselves as an elite club they will need to beat the toughest opponents, in season and in the playoffs. Pierce said he’s not sold “yet” on this team -this six-game stretch will be an important first step towards proving him wrong.