Toronto Raptors continue to roll but questions remain

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 03: DeMar DeRozan /

No matter what the Toronto Raptors achieve during the regular season, doubts will remain until we see how they perform in the playoffs.

There was plenty to like about the Toronto Raptors on Friday night. Plenty.

The Raptors equaled a franchise record with a 11th consecutive win. And they did it in dramatic fashion, beating the Dallas Mavericks 122-115 in overtime.

Toronto managed the victory without the services of Kyle Lowry, who was given the evening off. And the fact they did it the night after a physical encounter with the Indiana Pacers, made the win more impressive.

DeMar DeRozan led the way with a game-high 29 points and added six assists, to make up for the absence of Lowry. Jonas Valanciunas notched 21 points and 12 boards to give him a third straight double double; in fact, he leads the Raptors with 23 on the season.

As you’d expect, the bench once again showed why it is considered the strongest in the league. Fred VanVleet in particular stood out, with 14 points and eight dimes.

However, as DeRozan himself admitted, the team still has it all to do, regardless of what records they set. As reported by the Canadian Press via Sportsnet, he said:

"“I mean it’s cool. But I think we’re all looking at it like we’ve got a bigger goal in hand. As long as we’re playing well and we’re figuring out how to put away adversity.“Every game’s not going to be pretty. But as long as we’re figuring out how to win and doing it the right way.”"

No matter that the Raptors were playing in the second game of a back-to-back and without their All-Star point guard, questions will remain. Fair or not, struggling to beat one of the worst teams in the NBA is not going to convince people you’re the real deal.

Toronto Raptors fans have complained about the lack of coverage the team is getting south of the border this season. However, apart from the fact they shouldn’t really care about this, there is some justification.

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Yes, the Raptors are having a truly special regular season, which could conceivably see them finish with the best record in the league. (Toronto may still be three losses behind the Houston Rockets, but they have a chance, especially with the head-to-head tie-breaker.)

However, the key words are “regular season”. It doesn’t mean squat, if you don’t step up once the playoffs roll around.

The Raptors have enjoyed a consistent level of regular season success in recent years. And yet, once the playoffs begin, they lose their way to a certain extent.

DeRozan and Lowry may be the stars of the team, but they have been inconsistent at best once the postseason starts. They still need to prove they can step up every night, once the pressure intensifies.

No matter how deep the bench is, teams give their starters more minutes in the playoffs. This is why the Raptors’ All-Star duo have to take their respective games to another level.

One thing which will conceivably help is the Raptors’ new offensive philosophy, which has been a revelation this season. The team has never played better in franchise history and it is to be hoped this momentum will spill over into the playoffs.

Until then though, Toronto will have to continue hearing the doubts, regardless of if they are justified, or just the result of lazy narratives. At least in Dwane Casey, they have a coach who knows what it takes to win an NBA championship, ironically as an assistant for Friday night’s opponent.

Interestingly, part of Casey’s approach has been to make no excuses. As noted by Sportsnet, a prime example of this was Friday’s contest representing the team’s seventh game in just 11 days.

Despite this, Casey has continued to push the players in an attempt to keep expectations high. As per Sportsnet‘s Michael Grange, DeRozan said:

"“He’s been yelling a lot lately. We’re trying to do whatever we can to stop him from yelling. It’s a lot.”"

The Raptors are well on course to land the top seed in the Eastern Conference. However, DeRozan and his teammates shouldn’t expect the yelling to stop any time soon; in fact, you can expect it to increase once the playoffs begin.

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As the playoffs edge ever closer, where is your confidence level at with the Toronto Raptors? Is this the season they finally make it to the NBA Finals, or are you concerned the players won’t step up once the pressure intensifies? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.