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5 NBA Playoff Questions for the Toronto Raptors

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

Alex Wong discusses the surprise season, DeMar DeRozan’s improvement and more.

5 NBA Playoff Questions for the Toronto Raptors

The NBA Playoffs begin tomorrow, and we want to get you excited for the road to the NBA Finals! We emailed bloggers and writers from playoff teams to get their perspective on how their teams will fare in the postseason. Let's learn more about the Toronto Raptors from writer Alex Wong.

When the 2013-2014 season began, the discussion around who would win the Atlantic Division centered around the New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets. The conversation was warranted, as the Knicks were coming off a 50-win season and the Nets entered the season with high-profile acquisitions Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

No one was talking about the Toronto Raptors, who had finished last in the Atlantic Division for the second time in three seasons. They had a logjam in the front court with Rudy Gay and DeMar DeRozan, there were question marks about how Jonas Valenciunas would perform, and a 6-12 start seemed to validate those concerns. But after the team traded Gay to the Kings, something funny happened. The Raptors started winning. A lot. They finished the season in first place with a four-game lead over the Nets and secured the third seed in the Eastern Conference and a first round matchup with the Nets.

Before the two teams tip off tomorrow at the Air Canada Centre, we asked writer Alex Wong five questions about the Raptors heading into the postseason.  

1. The Raptors are in the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-2008 season, and they got there in convincing fashion with a 48-34 record, best in franchise history. How much of a surprise was this year's Raptors team to you?

Alex Wong: Huge surprise. Headed into the season, everyone knew the Rudy Gay-DeMar DeRozan tandem was not a long-term solution for an offense that was stagnant with an inefficient ball stopper as the focal point of the offense. Kyle Lowry was coming off a very uneven first season with the Raptors and already headed to free agency. The potential of players like Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas was immense, but they were unknowns. When the team traded Rudy Gay, they were 6-12. So, using that trade -- which opened up the floor and really transformed the offense and solidified the bench depth -- as a time stamp, the team went 42-22, playing a brand of basketball that the city completely fell in love with. This is, without a doubt, one of the best stretches of basketball in Raptors history, no exaggeration.

2. DeMar Derozan really seems to have taken a big step forward this season, his best of his five-year career. What's been the biggest difference in his game?

Wong: The two things that DeMar has improved on this season have been expanding his shooting range and getting to the free throw line. He's among the league leaders in free throws attempted, averaging 8 a game. In his first two seasons, he made a combined nine three-pointers. He's still not a lethal threat from behind the arc (30% shooter from three this year), but just having this as an element to his game and the added aggressiveness has been tremendous for his offensive game.

3. When you look at the first round matchup against the Nets, what's the one on-court matchup that concerns you the most?

Wong: I wonder if the Nets will continue to employ their small lineup with Pierce at the four, and presumably Garnett at the five, playing longer minutes than he got in the regular season. The Pierce-Amir Johnson match-up could be problematic, and if it forces the Raptors to go to various other line-ups and play small, it could be a problem. Although, I think we'll see adjustments throughout the series as the Raptors are capable of trotting out five-man lineups with varying degrees of size and style of play. I just wonder if we'll find the right combinations in time within a seven-game series.

4. Who is one role player that really needs to step up for Toronto this series?

Wong: I think Patrick Patterson will be key. He's quietly been a very solid bench contributor (and occasional starter). If he can provided that boost off the bench consistently throughout the series, that's one more problem the Nets have to contend with.

5. What is your final prediction for the Raptors for their return to the postseason?

Wong: Both of these teams have been great since the New Year, and I know much has been made about the Nets and their playoff experience that there's almost this assumption that there's no way they can be bounced in the first round. But I do think the Raptors have a better team overall, and I'd pick them to win in seven games.

Alex Wong is a writer living in NYC (via Toronto) who has been published at The Classical, SLAM and more. You can check out his website www.stevenlebron.com and follow him on Twitter, @steven_lebron.

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