Toronto Raptors prepare for season-defining back-to-back

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 13: Jonas Valanciunas
PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 13: Jonas Valanciunas /

After a season of proving people wrong, we’re about to find out what the Toronto Raptors are truly made of, as they face the Cavaliers and Celtics on successive nights.

For the majority of this season, the Toronto Raptors have been battling against the doubts, looking to prove people wrong. No one truly expected them to be in position to actually finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference.

If Raptors fans are honest, this includes them as well. Even with the strongest bench in the league.

However, when Toronto went on a game-winning streak of 11 games, everyone finally believed. With a record of 52-17, they were five clear of the Boston Celtics for the Eastern Conference lead.

So of course, just as the Raptors looked destined to do the unthinkable, things started to go wrong. With a run of 3-4 in the last seven games, they now find themselves just two ahead of the Celtics.

In the process, the doubts have reemerged about the ability of Dwane Casey’s men to rise to the occasion. More specifically, can they deliver when it matters most in the playoffs?

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A major part of the reason for this is because two of the recent four losses have come against the Cavaliers and the Celtics. Both defeats provided genuine reason for concern.

The loss against LeBron James and company was worrying, because the Cavaliers were missing five rotation players through injury. In addition, they did not even have head coach Tyronn Lue on the bench.

The Celtics defeat was a concern, due to how the Raptors fell away in the final quarter. Apart from reigniting questions about their ability to perform in crunch time, they allowed Boston to take a 2-1 series lead on the season.

As a result, the Toronto Raptors find themselves in a season-defining moment, with just six regular season games remaining. And if things go wrong in the next two games, they could find themselves dropping down to second place in the East, by virtue of a tie-break.

That’s because the Raptors face a crucial back-to-back against the Cavaliers and Celtics. Now we get to find out what Toronto is made of.

The “fun” will begin in Cleveland on Tuesday night, against a re-energized Cavaliers team. After looking like mere mortals at 39-29, they’ve won eight of their last nine games.

Even the possibility the Cavs will be without George Hill and Kyle Korver won’t deter them. They’ve already proven they can beat the Raptors when short-handed.

There is also the realization that the playoff version of LeBron and the Cavaliers is vastly different to the regular season edition. Regardless, Tuesday’s game will provide an interesting insight into the Raptors’ mental fortitude at a time of adversity.

Then, it’s back to Toronto to face the Celtics. If nothing else, this should provide the Raptors with some comfort, since they have the second-best home record in the NBA.

Mind you, this doesn’t mean DeMar DeRozan and company will have it easy at the ACC. Consider that the Celtics have the second-best away record in the league this season.

You can’t even take much solace in Boston not having Kyrie Irving, given they beat the Raptors without him last time out. And don’t forget Toronto will be playing the second game of their back-to-back.

In theory, if the Raptors had to choose one game to lose, it would be the Cavaliers encounter. It’s on the road and Cleveland can’t catch them in the standings.

Beating the Celtics would give Toronto a season split against their divisional rivals. In addition, it would maintain an advantage over the Celtics, with just four games remaining in the regular season.

In truth though, no matter what happens over these next two nights, questions will remain for the Raptors. Even if they go 2-0, people will say it will be different in the postseason, when Irving is back and they have the prospect of facing playoff LeBron.

The doubters are back. Now it’s up to the Toronto Raptors to prove everyone wrong again.

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Now it’s your turn. What kind of success are you predicting for the Toronto Raptors in their back-to-back against the Cavs and Celtics? What will their record be in the two games, and why? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.